playoffs 2017: Cubs reach NLCS for third straight year to set rematch with Dodgers

null null Baseball null null WASHINGTON, D.C. — It’s 1:34 a.m. on Friday the 13th, and there isn’t a dry eye inside the visitor’s clubhouse at Nationals Park. The Chicago Cubs had just finished their surreal 9-8 victory against the Nationals in Game 5 of the NLDS, a contest that was a series of competing “no way that just happened” moments. But the watery eyes aren’t only tears of joy. MORE: 14 postseason oddities you need to knowThe air in this place is an assault on the senses. For the past half-hour, the clubhouse has been filled with Korbel and Budweiser flying through the air — sprayed and flung about in liquid form, not bottles, of course — and that stuff stings the eyeballs.  And half of the clubhouse is heavy with the smoke from well-earned celebration cigars. In the middle of the clubhouse, coach Dave Martinez meshes the two together; he’s standing there, lit cigar in his mouth, as six or seven very excited people wearing celebration shirts with the #FlyTheW slogan do their best to extinguish the well-respected baseball man’s cigar. Martinez loves every single moment. Related News Each team's worst postseason memory, revisited And why not? The Cubs are heading to the NLCS for the third year in a row. For any franchise, that’s a remarkable accomplishment. For a franchise that hadn’t even made the playoffs three years in a row since 1906-08, it’s something generations of Cubs fans couldn’t even imagine. “It’s easy to talk about sustained success, but it’s harder for these guys to go out and do it,” Cubs team president Theo Epstein says, his voice battling to rise above the noise. ”That’s three years in a row to the NLCS. That’s hard to argue with. But we want more. We’re not happy just getting there. We want to try to win the whole thing.”MORE: Each team's worst postseason memoryEpstein, the front-office guru who led the Red Sox to their first World Series title in 86 years back in 2004 and last year helped the Cubs to their first title in 108 years, is a veteran of these types of celebrations now. Before he joined the party, he changed into a t-shirt, blue Cubs gym shorts and flip flops. Same with his right-hand man, Jed Hoyer. When you’ve been there before, you know how to prepare for a celebration. Same thing with the playoffs. “There’s a personality to this team,” Jon Lester said, squinting through the beer stin

g. “And it goes back to last year. We never quit. We never quit. We grind it out. If we’re down, it doesn’t matter. We have the same at-bats, the same pitching philosophy.” The first of these three consecutive trips, in 2015, ended quickly. The wild-card Cubs were swept by the Mets, who wound up losing to the Royals in the World Series. “In 2015, when you’re just getting there for the first time, you’re just kind of going on adrenaline,” Epstein said. “The game is really fast in the postseason. But you learn from that. We had a big game in Pittsburgh, a great series against the Cardinals that bolstered our confidence, then we took a lot from that loss to the Mets. By the time we got back last year, we really belonged.”The Cubs, of course, won it all in 2016. Still, perhaps no series victory was more improbable than this NLDS win against the Nationals. Not just because they beat a 97-win team; it was how they won three of the five games. MORE: 3 things we learened from Cubs' NLDS win“Look at the things in this series that didn’t sink us,” Epstein said. “We were no-hit until the sixth (in Game 1). Then we were no-hit until the seventh (in Game 3), and we won both those games. Tonight we walked eight or nine guys. Four straight leadoff walks? A real small strike zone. Couldn’t get the big hit. Still found a way to win. That says a ton about our guys and their belief.”In a perfect world, the celebration of that belief and this series win would have lasted all night and through the next couple days. But now it’s 1:34 a.m., and it’s officially time to head to the airport. The 104-win Dodgers, the team the Cubs beat in last year’s NLCS, are waiting in Los Angeles. “They’re probably thinking that they’ve got some unfinished business,” Addison Russell says with a smile. “We’re going to go into the series with the same mindset.”