Kyle Hendricks isn't your typical major-league starting pitcher in the year 2016.
He's a graduate of Dartmouth College -- the first big-league pitcher to hail from that Ivy League school since Mike Remlinger, who pitched briefly for the Cubs more than a decade ago.
He doesn't throw particularly hard, topping out on radar at about 90 miles per hour, in an era when many starters routinely throw 95-plus.
And yet... the headline says it all. Hendricks, when he's on, commands the strike zone, locates his pitches precisely, induces a lot of ground ball outs (13 of them Monday) and even strikes out a fair number of hitters (7.7 per nine innings; that ranks 40th of 92 qualified starters this year).
Monday night, when the Cubs needed it most after the bullpen threw nine total innings Sunday, Hendricks gave the team and the pen a gift. Cubs relievers got the night off as Hendricks threw a seven-hit, complete-game shutout with 123 pitches. The Cubs also got timely hitting, including an RBI single from Hendricks, and defeated the Marlins 5-0.
There are lots of fun facts about this one. First, Hendricks' 123 pitches were a career high, and it was just the fourth time this year that any major-league pitcher had thrown that many. None of the other three (Cole Hamels, Jeff Samardzija and Chi Chi Gonzalez, the latter doing it in just 4⅔ innings) threw a complete game. More on Hendricks:
Kyle Hendricks: first #Cubs pitcher to toss shutout & collect a hit, walk & RBI at the plate since Kevin Tapani 4/10/1998 at Montreal— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 2, 2016
Even more impressive: the last Cubs pitcher to do that at Wrigley Field was Claude Passeau, who accomplished the feat 76 years ago, September 23, 1940.
Lowest home ERA this season (min 50 IP)— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 2, 2016
1.19 Kyle Hendricks
1.31 Clayton Kershaw
1.59 Madison Bumgarner
1.71 Jake Arrieta
1.99 Jon Lester
Kyle Hendricks: 0.79 ERA in July-August (6 games, 5 starts, 34.1 IP)#Cubs— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 2, 2016
lowest season ERA at Wrigley Field— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 2, 2016
Minimum 10 starts
1.11 Grover Cleveland Alexander, 1920
1.19 Kyle Hendricks, 2016
1.38 Mike Morgan, 1992
That last one... man, that's impressive. Hendricks has allowed 10 earned runs at home in 75⅓ innings, and just two home runs (Trayce Thompson of the Dodgers and Josh Harrison of the Pirates).
Also, Hendricks became the first Cubs pitcher not named Jake Arrieta to throw a complete-game shutout at Wrigley Field since Ryan Dempster did it against the Pirates September 29, 2009.
Hendricks had quite a bit of help from his defense:
- This barehand pickup and throw [VIDEO] by Addison Russell to end the second inning with the bases loaded.
- This outstanding relay [VIDEO] by Javier Baez to throw out Derek Dietrich trying to stretch a double into a triple in the fourth.
- A diving catch [VIDEO] by Matt Szczur for the first out of the fifth.
- An excellent throw [VIDEO] by Willson Contreras (and tag by Baez) to catch Dee Gordon trying to steal, also in the fifth.
The Cubs also got some help from the video review crew. Anthony Rizzo bobbled a grounder by Dietrich in the second, but threw to Hendricks in time for the out, and it was ruled "call stands":
Later, J.T. Realmuto was called safe at first on the field on a grounder to Russell, but it was reversed on review, ending the sixth inning:
Ichiro Suzuki, who didn't start this game in his quest for 3,000 career hits, pinch-hit in the seventh inning and was greeted with a loud ovation and chants of "I-chi-ro!" He smashed a line drive right to Kris Bryant, who appeared to be just a hair late trying to double Adeiny Hechavarria off first. But the Cubs won that challenge, ending the seventh inning:
That actually wound up being a key play for Hendricks and the pen. If Ichiro's drive goes just a bit higher, it likely winds up in the left-field corner, putting runners on second and third with one out and Hendricks is probably out of the game. Kudos to the defense for that one.
Hendricks came out for the ninth inning to applause nearly as loud as that for Ichiro. He got Giancarlo Stanton to fly to right -- not easily, as Jason Heyward had to make a running, arm-outstretched catch. Then he walked Marcell Ozuna. Travis Wood had been warming up, and even Aroldis Chapman began to lightly loosen up. But Hendricks got yet another ground ball, right to Russell for a game-ending double play.
Seven hits, three walks, five strikeouts. As the headline says: "All he does is get guys out." And the bullpen certainly sends its gratitude.
The Cubs' offense had trouble getting going, even with a two-run first highlighted by a two-run single by Russell. The Cubs left the bases loaded. They also left a pair of runners on in the second, third and fourth innings, finally breaking through for two more runs in the fifth on Hendricks' hit and a sac fly by Dexter Fowler. Anthony Rizzo tripled to lead off the sixth. It was his third of the year, tying his career high set last year. Baez hit a sac fly to complete the scoring.
For Rizzo, that was part of a three-hit (single, double, triple) evening in which he also walked and was hit by a pitch. If you think that's unusual, you're right:
Anthony Rizzo: 1B, 2B, 3B, BB, HBP tonight.— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 2, 2016
Only #Cubs player from 1913-present to do that
(thanks, @baseball_ref play index)
That's been done just 18 other times in major-league history, and check out the last player to do it before Monday (click on the link in Scott Lindholm's tweet):
@ckamka Forget about Cubs, that's a small list for all teamshttps://t.co/04o6Pf6ajQ— Scott Lindholm (@ScottLindholm) August 2, 2016
It really couldn't have been a better night at Wrigley Field. The weather was perfect, the defense outstanding, the pitching a joy to watch, the offense produced when it needed to, and the crowd got to see a future Hall of Famer take his shot at a significant career milestone. Regarding the latter, even though Ichiro failed to get a hit Monday, he'll certainly get more chances in this series.
Finally, I'm really gratified to see Hendricks do this well, as I've been a big fan of his from the time the Cubs acquired him from the Rangers in the Dempster trade four years ago. He's been the best Cubs starter over the last month and one of the best in the league. I've said before that he's my favorite current Cub. Games like this are the reason for that, and I hope Kyle keeps it up.
Cubs walk watch: seven free passes in this one were the most since June 28, and made the season total 444, or 4.23 per game. Pace: 685.
Another pace to watch: the Cubs improved their home record to 35-17, which is a pace for 55 wins at Wrigley Field this year. That would match the 2008 total of home victories. The team record for home wins is 60, set in 1906.
And with the win, the Cubs gained half a game on the idle Cardinals and Pirates, and are now back to an eight-game lead in the N.L. Central for the first time since July 18. They're also 23 games over .500 for the first time since July 1 (51-28). They'll go for a series win Tuesday evening, though it won't be easy, facing Jose Fernandez of the Marlins. Jason Hammel will take the mound for the Cubs.