The world changed Saturday night at Wrigley

CHICAGO -- Ron Santo never saw this. Fergie Jenkins never did this. Ernie Banks never lived to see this moment -- to watch the universe change before his eyes.

But finally, on Saturday at 9:45 p.m. Wrigley Daylight Time, when the world turned upside-down, it finally happened. That moment.

There were two outs left until Cubs Armageddon. Yasiel Puig tapped a one-out ground ball toward shortstop, where Addison Russell realized immediately what had a chance to happen here.

The baseball -- THAT baseball -- was hopping directly at him. And his first thought was: "I could not believe it. ... He hit it to me. He hit it to ME."

But this ball was traveling so slowly, he wasn't sure it was a double-play ball. So all he told himself was to make sure he got one out -- "and if we get two, that's even sweeter."

Except Russell was feeding that baseball to a second baseman who believes everything and anything is possible. Of course Javier Baez was going to get this baseball to first base on time. What else would he do?

"So I decided to turn it," Baez said. "And we made it happen."

Baez's relay throw whooshed toward Anthony Rizzo at approximately 178 mph. It popped into Rizzo's glove a millisecond before Puig's foot hit the first-base bag. And it is barely possible to describe what happened next with mere words.

With hugs, maybe. With tears, maybe. With a lifetime's worth of emotions spilling through the night, definitely.

The Cubs -- the Chicago Cubs -- were going to the World Series. Did you think you'd possibly live long enough to read that sentence? Did you think the baseball gods would ever permit something that crazy to happen?

Well, it's happening, ladies and gentlemen. It's happening. In real life. In your life. For the first time in 71 years. In this actual world that you live in.

"I can't believe it," said Cubs legend Billy Williams after the team's 5-0 triumph over Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series that finally made that dream come true. "I'm standing on the field, and the Cubs are going to the World Series. I can't believe that."

Williams played for the Cubs for 16 years. In the 1950s. In the 1960s. In the 1970s. He has been retired for 40 years. No wonder his brain and his heart were having trouble processing a moment this powerful, this historic. How can any of us truly comprehend something this mysterious, something that very few people you know had ever witnessed?

So maybe we can help you make it all sink in. Maybe we can make you appreciate how lonnngggg ago 1945 really was. Ready? Since the last time the Cubs played in a World Series:

-- 1,275 different men played for the Cubs -- in seasons that didn't end this way, of course.

-- 606 different men threw at least one pitch for the Cubs -- none of them in a World Series game.

-- the Cubs played 11,309 baseball games -- not one of which could be described as "a World Series game."

-- World Series games were played in 45 different ballparks -- none of which were known as "Wrigley Field." At Coors Field, yes. At Chase Field, yes. At Ebbets Field and Citi Field, yes. Even at Tropicana Field. But at Wrigley? Iconic Wrigley Field? Never.

-- the Yankees played in 26 World Series in that endless time span. The Dodgers played in 15. The Cardinals played in 11. The Cubs watched or listened to all of them from their living rooms, from their man caves or from some fishing boat in the middle of a distant sea.

-- Banks played more than 2,500 games for the Cubs. Williams played more than 2,200. Ryne Sandberg and Santo played more than 2,100 apiece. That's a whole lot of box scores. Just not World Series box scores.

So what happened at Wrigley Field on Saturday night was more than just a baseball game. More than just a sporting event. The world changed on this night. Lives changed on this night. Millions of lives. Millions.

"This transcends baseball," said Ryan Dempster, a man who pitched 376 games for the Cubs over nine different seasons -- and never had any of them end like this. "You know how many people I saw cry tonight? People crying. People hugging each other. This is far more than a baseball game. I don't know how to put it into words, except it's an event in these people's lives that they will forever remember. And to be here, to watch it all happen, was just incredible."

So how do we define what changed on this night? After all, it wasn't as if the Cubs won a World Series. They merely won a game that will allow them to play in the World Series -- against a team from Cleveland with its own history to rewrite.

But even the Indians have at least played in four World Series since the last time the Cubs played in one. Meanwhile in Chicago, the Cubs hadn't reached this perch on the mountain since the Harry Truman administration, hadn't clinched a World Series berth at Wrigley since 1932, hadn't won a single best-of-seven series since 1908.

So even though there is more to do and more baseball to play, what happened at Wrigley Field was as epic as a league championship series clincher can possibly get. The Cubs didn't just end a drought here. They busted more ghosts than Bill Murray ever did.

"Getting to the World Series is a big accomplishment," said the manager of this ghostbuster crew, Joe Maddon. "Of course, winning it would be even greater than that. But I still believe that, in seasons to come, people are going to believe more easily now. They're not going to look for the next shoe to drop. They'll believe that something good is going to occur, as opposed to something bad."

But wait. Maybe those people actually crossed that threshold before the final out on this night. Maybe there was a sign from the heavens, in the ninth inning of this game, that it was OK to believe. Really.

It happened with one out in the ninth. On a 3-and-1 pitch from Aroldis Chapman to Carlos Ruiz. Ruiz swung at a 101 mph Chapman infernoball and got just enough of it to lift a high foul ball that drifted down the left-field line and floated just out of play -- into a section that looked waaayyyy too familiar to anyone who saw Game 6 of another NLCS, back in 2003.

"Somebody said to me that that one-out foul ball was right where [Steve] Bartman was," said Cubs catcher David Ross. "Somebody said that in the dugout. And I just said, 'Who cares, you know?' We've got one out and the guy on the mound throws 100. I like our chances.' ... So when he said, 'Ooh, that was right where Bartman was,' I just went, 'Perfect. It went all the way in the stands. Foul ball. So now we can win.'"

And three pitches later, what do you know? That's exactly what they did.

Mark Grace never had a night like this. Don Kessinger never felt a feeling like this. Sammy Sosa never hopped around Wrigley when the planets lined up like this.

But Baez? He was there. He was part of it. He was a cowinner of the NLCS MVP award -- along with Jon Lester -- on the night the Cubs booked their trip to the World Series.

"Crazy," he said. "It's crazy living this life right now."

And Russell? He was there, too. He pounded a second-inning double off Kershaw. He started the artful double play that turned Wrigley into a sea of noise, high-fives and selfies. And he spent the next hour and a half wandering around this magical ballpark with a smile on his face as wide as that street beyond the bleachers that was obviously named with him in mind.

"We're going to the dance, man," he said. "And we're gonna dance."

And Ross? Yep, he was there, too. He didn't play on this night, though he did become part of a very cool feat when Willson Contreras homered in the fourth inning -- and made the Cubs the first team in history to have three different catchers (Contreras, Miguel Montero and Ross) hit home runs in the same postseason. But nevertheless, Ross was summoned to the victory podium behind second base -- along with the brass and the manager and the co-MVPs -- and the cheers were so loud, they filled up his eyes with emotion.

"There's been a feeling about this city since we landed [Friday morning]," Ross said, as he nears the end of his final season. "There's just a buzz here. Everybody's excited. This is the Holy Grail of sports championships. And this moment here just shows you how great this city is and these fans. It hasn't always been this way. But I think they appreciate it more, because they've had so many low times."

But five years ago, the Cubs hired a master of curse zapping named Theo Epstein to perform another baseball magic act. Then, in the fall of 2014, they hired a silver-haired renaissance man named Joseph J. Maddon to lead people, embrace the moments and change this culture. Well, you could feel that culture shifting again on Saturday, right before your eyeballs.

Asked whether he had allowed himself two years ago, back when the Cubs hired him, to picture the sights and sounds of what he called this "crazy cool" evening, Maddon shook his head, his eyes twinkling in the electric night.

"I just didn't want to do that," he said. "I wanted to be surprised. And it's just as you'd expect. But I don't even know what it looks like outside. Oh my God."

No kidding. Beyond those ivy-covered walls, the streets were thumping with life. But not just streets named Waveland and Clark and Addison. We're talking about many, many streets, stretched out across many, many miles, where life as these people had always known it had just shot all these folks into a cosmos they had never known.

These Cubs might have four more humongous baseball games to win. But they've already erased 71 years of history and heartbreak. So even now, nothing is quite the same anymore. And that's going to take some getting used to -- even for the Cubbies themselves.

Asked what he thought had changed on this night, Maddon answered with one powerful word: "Perception."

"You know that thing I'd always heard, about the Cubs being lovable losers, I never quite understood that," the manager said, "because that's not how I was raised. So getting here and really not paying attention to all the nonsense, the superstition that really has dragged a lot of people's minds down -- to escape that is great. Now we can just continue to move it forward."

That job -- the moving-it-forward part of the gig -- begins Tuesday in Cleveland. But first, the 2016 Chicago Cubs had another big job they had to get to.

As the sign in the stands said, they had to "party like it's 1945." And from the looks of things, they were up to that job, too -- almost as up to that job as the people whose lives they had just transformed.

"They're ready for this moment," Baez said of those people. "And we're ready for this moment."

So how long, he was asked, could they all celebrate what just happened here?

"Ooh," gushed the NLCS co-MVP. "Forever."