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Cubs 4, Cardinals 1: Kyle Hendricks, Almost Famous

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The Cubs righthander nearly entered the record books.

Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Despite coming up three outs short of a no-hitter, Kyle Hendricks’ game against the Cardinals Monday night was magnificent.

Hendricks, who barely breaks 90 on pitch-speed meters in an era when 95 is standard issue for pitchers, had his no-hit bid broken up with no one out in the ninth, as if we needed more excitement than just reducing the division-clinching magic number to three.

Jeremy Hazelbaker led off that ninth inning with a home run, also depriving Hendricks of a shutout, and after that plate umpire Joe West decided to make himself part of the show, tossing Joe Maddon. What was that about?

Catcher Miguel Montero quickly visited the mound, but tension mounted after he returned behind the plate.

"(West) tapped me on the shoulder and told me to go out," Montero said. "So I'm walking out, and (West) then said, 'If you go out, I'll count it as a visit.'"

As Montero went to the mound for a second time, Maddon came out to argue with West and was tossed.

"There was a misinterpretation there," Maddon said. "We needed a little bit more time to get (closer Aroldis Chapman) ready, based on the situation. That's all. And I needed the catcher to go out to the mound.

"We were denied, and I didn't like it. So I made my stand. I truly believe we were proper in that."

Even a certain former Cubs pitcher noticed West’s antics:

Chapman (34th save) came in to finish up, and the Cubs wound up with a 4-1 win. Kyle’s ERA had briefly dipped below the 2.00 mark, but the solo homer sent it back over. At 2.03, he still leads the league (by a significant margin, Noah Syndergaard is second at 2.48), and games like this ought to get the attention of the national media that votes for the Cy Young Award, if Hendricks didn’t have that attention already. And if you think he hasn’t done quite enough for that award, check this out:

The outstanding outing dropped Hendricks’ career ERA from 2.94 to 2.91 in 73 total games (72 starts).

Hendricks, as always, spent the evening inducing weak contact, the hallmark of his game. He had Cardinals hitters swinging and missing at 81 mile per hour changeups, making them hit routine ground balls to Cubs infielders, nine ground ball outs in all. Beyond that, Cubs fielders backed up Kyle with spectacular defense. Have a look at this terrific play by Addison Russell on a Jhonny Peralta ground ball onto the outfield grass in the sixth:

The next hitter — Hazelbaker — hit a foul ball down the right-field line. Jason Heyward dived into the stands to make this great catch:

(Check out the Cardinals fan trying to grab the ball out of Heyward’s glove.)

Kyle’s changeup is what gets him outs, even strikeouts, rare for a pitcher without velocity. He struck out seven and issued two walks (one was erased on a double play) and the Cubs’ win was thanks primarily to a pair of home runs.

Ben Zobrist hit his 15th [VIDEO], which was his first since August 20 and just his second since the All-Star break, to give the Cubs a 1-0 lead in the second. That was the longest homer the year for Ben:

The Cubs plated another run in the third on an RBI single by Anthony Rizzo after a pair of singles by Javier Baez and Dexter Fowler. Then Fowler added a two-run shot [VIDEO] in the fifth after Baez had reached on an error.

Kyle has worked very hard to get where he is, a non-traditional starter in an era where everyone throws hard, kind of a throwback. Greg Maddux comparisons have been made, not entirely unfairly. Hopefully Kyle will throw a no-no someday — Maddux himself never had one. The Hazelbaker home run deprived Hendricks not only of a no-hitter, but of the chance to throw “a Maddux,” defined as a complete-game shutout with fewer than 100 pitches, although it’d have been close, as Kyle left the game with 96 pitches (64 strikes), still very efficient.

One more note on this game:

And one more no-hitter note: we’re less than three weeks till the end of the 2016 regular season (where did the time go?). The only no-hitter that’s been thrown by anyone this year is Jake Arrieta’s against the Reds in Cincinnati on April 21.

As noted above, the Cubs’ magic number to clinch the N.L. Central title dropped to three, and they still have a chance to do it in St. Louis if they can win Tuesday and Wednesday. The Nationals also won Monday, so the Cubs’ magic number to clinch the best record in the National League stands at 12. And, the win was the 92nd of the year for the Cubs. That means only four Cubs teams since the last pennant year of 1945 have won more: 1989 (93), 1984 (96), 2008 (97) and 2015 (97). With 19 games remaining, the 2016 team will likely pass all of those, on its way to 100 and beyond.

First things first: Tuesday night, Jason Hammel will throw for the Cubs and Jaime Garcia for the Cardinals.