This game kind of faded from memory after Jake Arrieta's great second half and all the winning streaks that started around the end of July, but it was a significant win for the team, and also for Kyle Hendricks, who threw the best game of his career in posting a complete-game shutout.
Here's hoping he throws more of them in 2016.
The Cubs were 23-17 after this game and picked up a game on the first-place Cardinals. The Cubs were in second place, 3½ games out of first place.
All of you know how big a fan I am of Kyle Hendricks.
Not even I thought he'd be the first Cubs pitcher to throw a complete-game shutout in 2015. Hendricks became the first Cubs starter to throw a pitch in the ninth inning this year and throughout, he showed the dominance he'd had through his minor-league career. We saw flashes of this in 2014, but Thursday night, he threw one of the best games any starter has had in 2015 and the Cubs won the series, defeating the Padres 3-0.
Hendricks allowed just five singles and struck out seven. Just one runner got past first base against him -- Justin Upton, who stole second after singling with two out in the fourth. Hendricks induced 11 ground-ball outs and had the help of two double plays. His Game Score of 84 was the fifth-highest for any starting pitcher this year, two short of the 86 posted by Shelby Miller last Sunday in Miller's near-no-hitter over the Marlins, and it's one of just 62 games since 1990 thrown by a Cubs starter with a Game Score of 84 or higher.
It was great to see Hendricks put a batting helmet on in the ninth inning as his spot came up in the batting order and realize that Joe Maddon was going to give him a shot at the shutout. Hendricks stood in the batter's box and looked at five pitches before being called out on strikes. No need to exert himself batting or on the bases -- save all the effort for the bottom of the ninth. Even so, Hector Rondon loosened up in the pen, just in case Hendricks had any trouble.
It took 10 pitches to finish the ninth and though the balls were hit reasonably hard for the outs, they were hit right at Cubs outfielders and Hendricks had his first career complete game and shutout and just the 16th CG thrown by any pitcher this year. Two quotes sum this one up:
#Cubs Hendricks on his solid outing: "I'm not going to say I needed it, but I needed it."— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) May 22, 2015
So true, and so did the Cubs, who have had trouble winning in San Diego in recent years. Instead, they leave with a series win, move back to six games over .500 and to within 3½ games of the Cardinals in the N.L. Central.
The offense didn't do much against Odrisamer Despaigne and two Padres relievers, but they didn't have to. Dexter Fowler led off the game with a walk and two pitches later, the Cubs had a 2-0 lead when Kris Bryant lofted his fifth homer of the season to straightaway center field. The Cubs' other run also came via the long ball, when Addison Russell yanked a Dale Thayer slider down the left-field line for his third home run. Other than that, the only offensive highlight of the game for the Cubs was Starlin Castro having a pair of singles. Perhaps he's beginning to come out of his offensive slump.
Hendricks just missed throwing what has become known as "a Maddux," the term coined by blogger Jason Lukehart in this 2012 post (Lukehart now runs the SB Nation Indians site Let's Go Tribe). A "Maddux" is a complete-game shutout thrown with fewer than 100 pitches. Hendricks threw 108 pitches Thursday night, 71 for strikes, and was in complete command and control the entire way. Of the 35 shutouts Greg Maddux threw in his career, 13 of them qualify under Lukehart's conditions. It would not surprise me if Kyle Hendricks threw a couple of them before he's done. Hendricks is never going to overpower hitters, but when he has great movement and location as he did Thursday night and can induce as many ground balls as he did, he's going to pitch many more similar to this one.
And finally, in yet another thing about this game that pleased me immensely, it took just two hours and eight minutes, the fastest nine-inning Cubs game in almost three years, since this win over the Mets July 8, 2012. This is rarer than you might think. Since 1990 the Cubs have played just 36 nine-inning games in 2:08 or shorter, averaging less than two per season. More just like this, please.
The Cubs move on to Arizona for a three-game set against the Diamondbacks starting Friday night. Jon Lester will take the mound against Josh Collmenter in a game that begins at 8:40 p.m. CT.