(CNN) –The Chicago Cubs are returning to the World Series for the first time in 71 years after defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 Saturday in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series.
The Cubs last appeared in the World Series in 1945, losing to the Detroit Tigers. The World Series opens Tuesday in Cleveland, where the Cubs will face off against the Indians.
Chicago Cubs fans have long been conditioned to expect the worst.
Saturday night at iconic Wrigley Field could be different.
They face Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw as part of their quest for their first Major League Baseball championship in 108 years. The Cubs lead the seven-game National League Championship Series 3-2. If they win, the team will head to Cleveland to battle the Indians in the World Series.
The Cubs’ last World Series was in 1945. Legend has it that a Chicago tavern owner named Bill “Billy Goat” Sianis pronounced a curse on the club on October 6 of that year — just a month after the end of World War II.
Sianis went to Wrigley to cheer on his beloved Cubs against the Detroit Tigers in the World Series, according to the tavern website, which dedicates a page to the Billy Goat curse.
For Game 4, he purchased a ticket for himself and one for his pet goat Murphy, who he thought would bring the Cubs luck.
But ushers stopped Sianis from entering with Murphy. Sianis appealed directly to then club owner P.K. Wrigley, asking him why he couldn’t take his personal mascot to the game.
“Because the goat stinks,” Wrigley replied, according to the Billy Goat Tavern.
So Sianis threw his arms up and cursed the team.
“The Cubs ain’t gonna win no more!” he declared.
When the Cubs lost the series to the Tigers, Sianis sent Wrigley a telegram.
“Who stinks now?” it read.
The Cubs were never the same again. Over the years, ghoulish pranksters have left dead goats at the stadium. They became known as the “Lovable Losers.” A popular Chicago T-shirt reads, “What did Jesus say to the Cubs? Don’t do anything till I get back.”
“The Chicago Cubs are the chimpanzees of baseball’s zoo — cute, popular, always a delight to see,” CNN contributor Mike Downey wrote earlier this month.
“They just don’t inspire any awe or fear the way the lions and tigers do. You never think of the Cubs in terms of menace and prowess, circling their prey. You think of the Cubs as sacrificial lambs.”
But this could be the year they roar. These Cubs have been highly touted since spring training, with many baseball writers predicting a championship. They started hot with 11 wins in their first 14 games and spent all but one day in first place. They posted a 103-58 record, the best in baseball. That’s the most games any Cubs team has won in one season since 1910.
One believer is actor and comedian Bill Murray, an Illinois native. On Friday he crashed the White House briefing room in a Cubs jacket.
“I feel very confident that Clayton Kershaw is a great, great pitcher, but we’ve got too many sticks,” Murray told reporters, who addressed him as “Mr. President.”
“We also have a little bit of autumn in Chicago. You don’t get that in Los Angeles,” said Murray, who was at the White House to receive the Mark Twain prize for American humor. “Trees just die in Los Angeles. In Illinois, they flourish.”
One of those sticks belongs to Kris Bryant, one of the best hitters in baseball in only his second full season. Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell are also hitting again.
Still, these are the Cubs. They have not scored off Kershaw in the series. If they lose Saturday night, they face Rich Hill on Sunday. He shut them out over six innings in Game 3.
Last year, the Cubs won 97 games. In the National League Championship Series, however, they were swept by a New York Mets team that won 90.
And who could forget the eighth inning of Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS between the Cubs and Florida Marlins. The Cubs led 3-0.
They were just five outs away from their first trip to the World Series since 1945. Then a lifelong Cubs fan name Steve Bartman, seated down the left field line, reached for a foul ball. He tipped the ball away from the outstretched glove of leaping Cubs outfielder Moises Alou.
His interference was the catalyst for a heartbreaking Marlins rally and eventual series win. TV cameras focused on Bartman, who was showered with abuse and had to be escorted from the stands for his own safety.
Bartman all but vanished that night. And the Cubs faithful continued to prepare for the worst.