Liam Hendriks doesn’t want to just beat the Minnesota Twins.
He wants to put them away for good.
The Chicago White Sox closer, who was named to the American League All-Star team Sunday, has been on the other side of this AL Central rivalry, a Twin for the first three years of his big league career. That was a long time ago, of course, back when Hendriks was trying to make it as a starter, before he became one of the best ninth-inning men in baseball.
But Hendriks’ memory is long. And as he said shortly after the White Sox signed him to a $54 million free-agent deal last winter, he still wants to stick it to the team -- one of the teams -- that decided to move in another direction.
“You've got that bit of extra adrenaline, a little bit of extra whatever you want to call it, energy, going into each outing,” Hendriks told NBC Sports Chicago last week. “There's not too many guys on this team from when I was there, but there's a couple of them around.
“I still hold a grudge against the former coaching staff... I brought a lot of it on myself. I'm not trying to claim that it was me getting victimized by any means. I butted heads with some of the coaching staff, I butted heads with some people there, and now I'm going out there and proving, 'No, I still got this, and this is what I'm doing against you guys, no matter if you're there or not.'
“You hold that little chip on your shoulder. You want to do as best you can against the team that gave up on you.”
Hendriks’ road to the South Side and status as one of the game’s great closers was a long one, with several stops along the way, and he feels the same way about two organizations he saw little to no big league action with, the Cubs and the Kansas City Royals, because they didn’t keep him around.
But his evolution into an All Star has had a lot to do with what he learned at each one of his stops. And for a guy like Hendriks, who talks so openly -- and acts so wildly on the mound -- about dominating the competition, it makes sense that he’d be extra driven when he sees his former organization’s colors in the batter’s box. Even if his time there wound up being beneficial in some way.
“Obviously, being DFA'd is never a fun fact,” Hendriks said. “But the thing I take most from my time with the Twins is that my mentality wasn't good. I was pitching, not necessarily scared, but I was always trying to make the perfect pitch every time rather than being more along the lines of, ‘Hey, look, I'm going to go out there, I'm going to throw strikes, I'm going to get ground balls, I'm going to get outs.’
“And it was just flipping that script of, ‘It doesn't matter where I throw, he's going to get out,’ to, ‘Oh crap, I need to make sure I throw it in the right area so he doesn't get a hit.’ Flipping the script from (giving up) a hit to getting an out was a big thing for me, and that's the one thing I try to remember whenever I go (to Minnesota) or whenever we face the Twins, because that's what I bring it back to.”
Of course, this isn’t just a once-a-year visit to an old haunt.
The White Sox and Twins are division rivals. And even though they’re sitting at opposite ends of the Central standings -- in first and last place, respectively, heading into this week’s three-game set in the Land of 10,000 Lakes -- the intensity of this rivalry got cranked to 11 last week on the South Side, with White Sox ace Lucas Giolito and Twins third baseman Josh Donaldson getting into a war of words.
Giolito won’t see the Twins during this series, having just pitched Sunday in Detroit. But Hendriks waded into the beef between the White Sox and Donaldson, citing his time in Toronto as a reason he’s “not a Donaldson fan” in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago.
Hendriks might be a former Twin. But there’s no zealot like a convert, as they say, and he’s not just looking to beat his old club this week. He’s looking to bury them.
“They're still not an easy team. It doesn't matter what their record says, they're not an easy team to beat,” Hendriks said. “It's a challenge that you embrace as a reliever or a starter. You want to go out there and you want to beat these guys no matter who's in the lineup, no matter what's going on.
“At this point now, we have a chance to separate ourselves even more so than what it is and almost firmly entrench them into buyers or sellers (at the trade deadline). If we have a rough couple games against them, they all of a sudden see that glimmer of hope and they can go out and be buyers. If we kind of step on them and crush their souls a little bit more, then they have a chance to end up looking at (themselves) as sellers.
“And it makes the rest of the season after this look a little bit easier, depending on what happens."
And if you’re concerned Hendriks might be giving the Twins some bulletin-board material, don’t be.
He certainly isn’t. He’s looking forward to it.
“I like going behind enemy lines,” he said. “You go behind enemy lines and you snatch that win from underneath them, and that's the stuff I love. ... It's always better to do it in a visiting ballpark.
“I thrive off the boos I get on the road. You play that antihero, and it seems to be something that helps me get it going a little bit.”