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Cubs feel the passion of an entire city as they earn a trip to the World Series

A sense of anticipation that has been brewing all summer built toward a crescendo for Theo Epstein Friday night, when the Chicago Cubs president took his dog for a walk around his Lakeview neighborhood home, which is seven blocks away from Wrigley Field.

"People are very into it, as they should be," Epstein said of Cubs fans. "I love being in a city that's playing October baseball, where you can feel everyone captivated by the ballclub, everyone walking around tired from staying up late, prioritizing baseball above all else. It's a great phenomenon."

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It was one Epstein experienced as the Boston general manager in 2004, when the Red Sox ended their 86-year World Series drought by vanquishing the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series and sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals for their first title since 1918.

And it’s a sensation Epstein and the Cubs will prolong for at least another week after a curse-busting 5-0 victory over the Dodgers in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series Saturday night gave the Cubs their first World Series berth since 1945 and sent Wrigley Field into delirium.

"This is crazy, man!" Cubs pitcher John Lackey, who won World Series rings with the Angels (2002) and Red Sox (2013), said amid a wild and raucous on-field celebration. "I've been fortunate to win a couple World Series, but this is a different level.

"You can feel it in the city. Everywhere you go, you go get a damn coffee, people want to talk to you about it. Driving over here, all the people in the streets you gotta get to just to get to the players' parking lot. There's definitely something in the air and something pretty special."

The city was engulfed in fear and anxiety last Tuesday. The Cubs were shut out in Games 2 and 3 and trailed the series, 2-1, before breaking out for 23 runs and 33 hits to win three straight games. They scored five runs off Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw in Saturday night's clincher.

"Three games ago, we were the worst best team in baseball," said pitcher Jon Lester, who was dominant while winning Games 1 and 5. "We all go through slumps, through problems, through things that put us in bad situations, but we never gave up, we never quit, we kept grinding.

"That's a testament to our guys. Yeah, we have superstars on this team, but we have superstars who grind and who care."

While the lone rookie in the Dodgers lineup—left fielder Andrew Toles—muffed an Anthony Rizzo fly ball for an error during a two-run first inning, the Cubs got significant contributions from three of the four kids in their lineup.

Rookie catcher Willson Contreras, 24, lofted a solo homer off the left-field foul pole in the fourth and did a masterful job handling pitchers Kyle Hendricks and Aroldis Chapman, who combined on a two-hit shutout.

Second baseman Javier Baez, 23, started two eye-popping double plays, in the first and eighth innings, and turned the game-ending double play in the ninth. He also showed a dash of precociousness when he stepped in front of Rizzo—while Rizzon was calling for the ball—to catch Josh Reddick’s fifth-inning popup.

Shortstop Addison Russell, 22, who homered in Games 4 and 5, doubled to left to start the second, popped up after his slide into the bag and cranked his right wrist as to rev up the engine of a motorcycle. Russell scored on Fowler's two-out single for a 3-0 lead.

Chicago also started rookie Albert Almora Jr., 22, who has played all of 47 games in the big leagues, in right field over veteran Jason Heyward, who signed an eight-year, $184-million contract last winter.

"You look from Baez to Contreras to Russell to Almora … I mean, that could be somebody's triple-A team just based on experience and age," Maddon said of the quartet, which has combined to play just 638 big-league games.

"I'm very proud of the fact that they're as good as they are. That's a testament to scouting and development as well as the person, the motor, the heart, the mind of all these kids."

While the celebration in Wrigley Field went deep into the night, the Cubs, who have not won a World Series since 1908, know their work isn’t finished. They’ll open the World Series in Cleveland against the Indians Tuesday night.

"It's gonna be a fun night," Lackey said. "Hopefully we have one more big party after this one."

Follow Mike DiGiovanna on Twitter @MikeDiGiovanna

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