One win away: Cubs embrace their date with history

Ross excited for chance to clinch pennant in Chicago (3:29)

Cubs catcher David Ross talks about taking two out of three games in Los Angeles, the importance of Jon Lester and the lineup's resurgence over the past two games. (3:29)

LOS ANGELES -- One win away. The Chicago Cubs are one win away from their first World Series since the Harry Truman administration. Drink in those words.

One win away.

But also feel free to ask yourself: Are those the most beautiful words in the universe? Or are they the most scary words in the universe?

They're beautiful and special because the last World Series to stop by Wrigley Field happened in 1945. In the 70 years since, only two other Cubs teams have ever found themselves where this team finds itself.

One win away.

But that's also the scary part. The 1984 Cubs were one win away too. And then jumped out to the lead in each of the next three games. Only to get swallowed up by Steve Garvey's homer, Leon Durham's error and the weight of history.

Nineteen years later, the 2003 Cubs also found themselves one win away. Then Josh Beckett happened. And Steve Bartman happened. And, well, you know how that turned out.

So in Chicago, those magic words, "one win away," come with a history lesson. And we regret to inform these Cubs, the 2016 Cubs, that they'll be hearing all about that history lesson right up to the first pitch of Game 6 at Wrigley on an electrified Saturday night. Not that they recall signing up for this history class.

"That history thing is lost on me," joked catcher David Ross, one of the few men in his locker room who has been in this position before (with the 2013 Red Sox). "I don't think I made good grades in history as a kid."

Ross spoke those words Thursday evening in a clubhouse pulsing with energy after an 8-4 thumping of the Dodgers in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, a game that lifted these Cubs to this beautiful and scary place.

The beauty was a joyous plane ride home, for the chance to play Games 6 and, if necessary, 7 at Wrigley and do something that would change the lives of millions of people. And the thought of what that would mean, for all of them, was powerful stuff.

"It's one of the main reasons why I signed here," said Ben Zobrist, "because I knew the history, and I wanted to be part of something special that hasn't been done in a long, long time. It's been an elusive championship. But we're not there yet."

Oh, right. They're not there yet. Good point. To get "there," all they have to do is beat Clayton Kershaw on Saturday and then Rich Hill on Sunday -- if there is a Sunday. That should be a blast.

In the two games earlier in this NLCS in which they faced those two, the Cubs sent 46 hitters to the plate against them. And exactly four of those 46 got what the sabermetricians like to call "a hit."

So that's the scary half of this equation. In these next two games, they probably won't be seeing a whole lot of Joe Blanton and Luis Avilan. The mission starts with a Game 6 steel-cage match against Kershaw, who has spent this October rewriting his own postseason legacy.

"We know he's going to challenge us, and he'll be going out there for blood," Dexter Fowler said. "So we just have to do our best and see what happens."

If they'd like a little slice of upbeat history, we can toss this tidbit their way. In the past decade, seven teams have been in this exact position -- heading home for Games 6 and 7, needing to win just one to make it to the World Series. All seven of those teams finished the job. And only the 2008 Rays -- a team managed by some guy named Joe Maddon -- even needed to play a seventh game to do it.

On the other hand, those teams also had something else in common. None of them were the Cubs. You can add your own punchline.

Ah, but not these Cubs. From the day these Cubs arrived in spring training, there has always been something different about them. They had their GPS set for this place, in this moment.

So this group has been shoving aside the goats and the curses for all those months in the journey to reach a game that very few men who have worn this uniform have ever gotten to play. And now they already can smell the special essence that will be in the air Saturday night.

"It's the best challenge in all of baseball," Ross said. "It's the Holy Grail of championships, right? You win a World Series in Chicago, I mean, that's the tops right now. I just think as a competitor, you want to be on the biggest stage -- unless you're scared. Maybe if you're scared, you don't want to be. But we don't have any dudes in here who are scared."

Nevertheless, they haven't played a more challenging game all season than the game they are about to play Saturday night. And this is where the handful of men in their clubhouse who have known the meaning of these one-win-away moments have to make sure the young guys around them don't get overwhelmed by the magnitude of what they have a chance to do.

"All you can stress is the importance of winning every inning," said their assistant hitting coach, Eric Hinske, a man who played in the postseason for four teams and won World Series titles in Boston and New York. "The good teams I've been on, guys like Jason Varitek and Derek Jeter talked about winning every inning, getting to the next pitch. And that's what you do. You've got to simplify things. You can't look at the grand scheme of everything. You've got to stay in the moment."

Ross, who won a World Series in Boston, keeps showering the young guys around him with almost that same mantra -- that this is no time to let your mind wander farther than the field you're playing on.

Asked what advice he gives the phenoms in his clubhouse, he replied: "Don't even think about the World Series. You've got Clayton Kershaw on the docket for Saturday. And he's going to be as locked in as anybody. He's one of the best in the game. So we'll celebrate once we go [to the Series]. But you've got to focus on the game. You start looking at the big picture and you'll get lost, and it'll swallow you up, and it will be gone before you know it."

Ha. Tell it to the 42,000 people who will charge into Wrigley Field on Saturday night. They too have waited a lifetime to witness a game like this. But they don't need Eric Hinske or David Ross to tell them these dreams are never guaranteed to come true.

"It's the best challenge in all of baseball. It's the Holy Grail of championships, right? You win a World Series in Chicago, I mean, that's the tops right now. I just think as a competitor, you want to be on the biggest stage -- unless you're scared. Maybe if you're scared, you don't want to be. But we don't have any dudes in here who are scared."
David Ross on the Cubs' World Series quest

Then again, you know the best part about history? You can rewrite it. And you know how close this team is to doing that?

One win away.

"We're trying to write our own story," Hinske said. "And this is us -- the 2016 Cubs. We've been together for eight months now. But we've got to win Saturday."

Four of the 25 players who will wear their uniform Saturday night have won a World Series: Ross, Jon Lester, John Lackey and Zobrist. But when Zobrist was asked if he'd ever shown his teammates what that World Series ring he won last year in Kansas City looks like, he shook his head.

"It's something that I'll show friends and family," he said. "And it's something that I'll wear in the offseason, and probably when I'm done with my career. But for now, we're keeping these fingers free."