Party like it's 1988! Enrique Hernandez, Dodgers slam Cubs to seal first World Series trip in 29 years

CHICAGO -- In the end, it was most fitting. The Los Angeles Dodgers' quest for a pennant ended on the field where it began nearly a year ago, on the ancient grounds of Wrigley Field.

It was most fitting that the winning pitcher was the Dodgers’ longtime ace, Clayton Kershaw, who flashed his best stuff in two months and dazzled the Chicago Cubs for six innings. In years past, the Dodgers might have asked Kershaw to do more. This season, they didn’t need it.

It was most fitting that Kershaw didn’t have to carry the load himself. Not in the least. In a season when the Dodgers seemed to produce a fresh hero every night, it was lightly regarded utility player Enrique Hernandez who produced an epic clinching performance.

But someone else might have stepped up just as easily.

It was most fitting that a Dodgers team that led the major leagues in wins during the season stomped the now-former champion Chicago Cubs 11-1 on a chilly Thursday evening in Wrigleyville, obliterating any hopes for a miracle Chicago comeback and a championship repeat by taking the National League Championship Series in five games.

Finally, it was most fitting that the best Dodgers team in decades -- a 104-win juggernaut -- took its first National League pennant since 1988. After 29 seasons, the Los Angeles Dodgers are going back to the World Series.

The Dodgers jumped on Cubs starter Jose Quintana from the beginning, getting an RBI double from super rookie Cody Bellinger in the first and a solo homer from Hernandez in the second.

The latter was not a surprise. Hernandez is a right-handed hitting specialist with the defensive versatility to plug spots all over the field. He hit .270 with 10 homers off left-handers during the regular season.

Much more shocking was what Hernandez did in the third inning, one batter after the Dodgers knocked Quintana out of the game. Hernandez drilled a grand slam to right-center off Hector Rondon -- just his second homer off a righty all season -- and gave the Dodgers a commanding 7-0 lead.

In doing so, Hernandez gave the Dodgers a headlock on the pennant and, with another homer in the ninth inning, he became the fifth player in major league history to hit three home runs in a potential series-clinching game and the first since Texas' Adrian Beltre in 2011. Hernandez's seven RBIs also tied a postseason record.

As the Dodgers kept tacking on runs, the rest of the game was an out-by-out countdown to the L.A. celebration. Kershaw gave up a solo homer to Kris Bryant, the sixth long ball he has allowed this postseason, but otherwise was sharp.

Kershaw touched 96 mph with his fastball, a level of velocity he struggled to reach late in the regular season when he came off the disabled list after recovering from a sore back. By the time he allowed Bryant’s homer, the Dodgers’ lead had ballooned to 9-0.

That made it easy for L.A. manager Dave Roberts to turn the ball over to a bullpen that has been lights-out the entire postseason. Together, that lockdown group finished what Kershaw started, putting the franchise lefty in the World Series for the first time in his career that began in 2008.

The Dodgers' pennant quest really began with an agonizing loss on Oct. 22, 2016, in Game 6 of the NLCS, a 5-0 soul-killer with Kershaw on the mound that sent the Cubs to their first World Series since 1945. Since then, the entire focus in L.A. has been getting back to NLCS for the fifth time in 10 years and, finally, taking those final steps to the Fall Classic.

Those steps were taken Thursday as the Dodgers' quest ended in the most triumphant and dominant way possible. And it ended in near perfection: A victory in five games over the Cubs and a 7-1 record while traversing the National League side of the playoff bracket.

On Friday, the Dodgers will return home to await the 19th World Series appearance in franchise history, needing four more wins to achieve the goal that Turner and Kenley Jansen returned as free agents last winter to achieve: that elusive championship.

The Dodgers, as we know them, earned their place as a marquee franchise on both coasts through a glorious period that extended from 1941 through 1988, from Roosevelt to Reagan. They won 16 pennants -- a third of all those the National League had to offer -- and six championships. It was a reign of success that felt like it would last forever.

Alas, there is no forever in sports, and the Dodgers' dynasty lay dormant for much of the past three decades, slumbering amid blunted plans, bloated payrolls, ownership chaos and collective underachievement.

That period is over. The Boys of October have reawakened.

Now the baseball universe shifts its attention to the American League. For the third time this postseason, the Dodgers will have few days to rest, recover and wait to see who emerges from a pairing of two possible opponents pouring all possible resources into surviving the present.

One of those potential World Series opponents -- the Houston Astros or the New York Yankees -- will celebrate in the next two days and then board a flight to California for the start of the Fall Classic on Tuesday.

There, the Dodgers and their legions of championship-starved fans will be waiting. Just as they have been for the past 29 years.