Cubs savor moment after hard-fought series

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A three-time World Series champion, Lester has found himself at the center of many celebrations like the one the Cubs enjoyed after their 9-8 victory Thursday against the Nationals in Game 5 of the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile. At 33, he knows the cruelty of the game he plays. He knows his total of 20 postseason starts is not ever-expanding. He knows the joyous moments could end at any time.

NLCS Game 1: Saturday, 8 p.m. ET/7 CT on TBS

So as the music blared, the cheers loudened, and the smells of smoke and champagne filled the visitors’ clubhouse at Nationals Park, Lester, as he always does, savored it. He was among the biggest celebrators in the small, square room, further restricted by the plastic sheeting covering the lockers as players doused one another.

“These moments are always great,” Lester said. “I’ve been a firm believer in that since Day 1. Somebody told me that early on in my career where you don’t take these moments for granted. It may be your last.

“This game is very fickle, to the fact that you never know when your last one may come, so I always try to enjoy them as best you can.”

The party was not diluted despite the Cubs needing two more series victories to repeat as World Series champions. For them, there has been plenty to celebrate of late.

Chicago advanced to its third straight NL Championship Series, presented by Camping World, with its wild victory over Washington. The celebration afterward was arguably just as raucous.

Corks, caps and ice cubes speckled the blue carpet. Champagne dripped from the beards of outfielders Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward. Others smoked cigars.

Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, wearing shorts, sandals and a postseason T-shirt, jumped into the arms of anyone near him. The imprint of the dress socks he had been wearing less than an hour before was still evident on his calves.

Epstein on advancing to NLCS

“This is why you watch 240 baseball games a year or whatever it is,” Epstein said. “Our players grind through a whole year, and our front-office guys pull the all-nighters. This is what it’s all about. Now that our guys are establishing that identity of finding a way to win this time of year, there’s no better thing to be known for, and they’ve earned it.”

The Cubs next face the challenge of the Dodgers, the best team in baseball, but thoughts of the game took a respite for the night. Chicago has to decide a starting pitcher for the series opener in Los Angeles, a decision Epstein said would be discussed on the team’s flight there.

Lester, who won two World Series with the Red Sox in addition to last year’s title, is likely not an option, having pitched 3 2/3 innings of relief in Game 4. But at some point, he’ll make his 21st postseason start, tying him for eighth all time. There is more to come for these Cubs.

Rizzo on advancing to NLCS

For a night, though, they enjoyed what was already guaranteed to be theirs.

“You live for this right here,” third baseman Kris Bryant said. “You go through the grind of the year just to make this moment. This feels so good, and I’ve been fortunate to be a part of a bunch of these so far.

“I don’t ever want it to end.”

Nathan Ruiz is a reporter for MLB.com based in Washington. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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