Maybe Kyle Hendricks had a late afternoon tee time.
Or maybe Hendricks wanted to give the 34,000+ in attendance at Wrigley Field a Friday afternoon to remember -- a reward for the long, soaking-wet week of staying up to watch West Coast baseball.
Whatever the reason, Hendricks pitched masterfully in a complete-game shutout that was over in less than 2.5 hours. It was the 4th complete game of his career, and completed in the fewest pitches (81!) since Jon Lieber threw 78 against the Reds 18 years ago.
“It just doesn’t happen,” Maddon said after the Cubs’ 4-0 over St. Louis. “Their game plan obviously was to swing early, and he didn’t walk anyone. That was the big thing - no walks.”
He spotted his sinker effectively all game, and against a lineup overflowing with right-handed hitters was able to induce a lot of weak contact early in the count. According to MLB’s Statcast numbers, the three hardest hit balls against Hendricks were all groundouts. The top four hitters in St. Louis’ lineup combined to go 0-15. Not a single Cardinals runner reached second base.
"Really masterful job,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “Tip your hat - he did a nice job. He really did. That was the art of pitching - controlling counts, changing speeds, in and out of the zone, had our guys off balance. Did a really nice job against a really good lineup."
Hendricks threw what’s affectionately known as a ‘Maddux’: a complete game shutout in less than 100 pitches. For the sake of authenticity, the righty did it all without throwing a pitch over 90 miles per hour, too.
“Lucky I got one,” he said with a smile. “Every time I go out there, I’m trying to get early contact and early outs. When it happens to go this way you can say, ‘Look, I did it,’ but it’s a little lucky too. There were a lot of hard hit balls early in the count that were right at guys.”
Hendricks’ outings always require the defense behind him to stay on their toes, and the Cubs were up to the task on Friday. Whether it was a slick backhanded play from the deep left side of the infield or a diving catch on a sinking outfield line drive, the Cubs’ defensive prowess was well on display.
“KB had a really nice game at third base,” Maddon said. “Jason in center field had a couple plays. Descalso, Javy to his left. We played our defense, which is what we have to do.”
Even with the stellar defense -- and Anthony Rizzo’s eighth home run of the year, a three-run shot that just snuck over the right field foul pole -- the star of the day was Hendricks. 18 of his 81 pitches were called strikes, and it was the first complete game shutout at Wrigley in almost three years.
“From the start, it started with my mental approach,” he said. “It was in the [pregame] bullpen, it was working pitch-to-pitch. I faced a couple hitters down there. I went out for the first inning and made good pitch after good pitch and [Contreras] was able to keep me locked in like that.”
It was a strong bounce back from his last performance, when Hendricks got pulled after 5 innings and 7 runs in Arizona. Heading into the day with ERA north of 5, Hendricks' gem lowered it almost two runs. His fielding-independent numbers look considerably more promising, too; the disparity between his pre-game ERA (5.33) and FIP (3.72) was one of the largest of any starting pitcher this season.
“I’ll appreciate it for sure at the end of the day,” he said. “The lessons I’ll take from this is the early contact I was able to get, and how I was able to stay in that mental approach the whole way through.”