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Cubs 4, Cardinals 0: Kyle Hendricks throws a Maddux

The Professor emulated one of the all-time greats.

Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

The use of a superlative like “masterpiece” in talking about a baseball game can be overdone.

But that, my friends, Friday’s 4-0 shutout of the Cardinals by Kyle Hendricks, the Cubs’ fifth win in a row, was a masterpiece.

Kyle allowed four singles. Only one Cardinals runner got past first base. He struck out four, got weak contact and was also helped out by some stellar defensive plays by Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Kyle Schwarber and Jason Heyward.

If you are not familiar with the term “a Maddux,” it refers to a complete-game shutout with fewer than 100 pitches, something Greg Maddux accomplished 13 times in his Hall of Fame career, three of those coming as a Cub.

It’s not something that happens frequently in modern baseball at all. Complete-game shutouts are becoming a rarity; Hendricks’ gem was just the fourth this season. And it was accomplished on just 81 pitches, 63 of which were strikes, and we have not seen that in a long, long time. Here’s fun fact number 1 about that, and then I have more:

That’s almost seven years ago. It’s been a lot longer since a Cub accomplished this feat. The last Cub to do this was Jon Lieber, who threw a 78-pitch, one-hit shutout against the Reds May 24, 2001 — nearly 18 years ago. Reliable pitch counts via baseball-reference go back only to about 1990, and the Lieber game and today’s masterpiece are the only such nine-inning games by Cubs pitchers in that time frame. And... there have been only six others, including the Aaron Cook game mentioned above, in that same time span. Here’s the complete list, which will now add Hendricks’ incredible performance.

Beyond that, before Friday here are the “lasts” that Hendricks wiped off the board:

That 2016 game was memorable because Kyle threw 123 pitches after a weekend series where the bullpen had been worked very hard and he knew they needed a break, and he gave them one.

I just love watching Kyle Hendricks carve up opposing hitters. He did so Friday afternoon, the best game he’s ever thrown, I think.

The Cubs got on the board in the third inning. Jack Flaherty walked Daniel Descalso and Kris Bryant with one out and that brought Anthony Rizzo to the plate [VIDEO].

That was Rizzo’s fourth home run in his last five games; he is now hitting .476/.538/1.190 (10-for-21, 1.728 OPS) with three doubles and the four homers. As you know, Rizzo can get on hot streaks that can last weeks, and this would appear to be the start of one of them. For the season he’s now at .252/.386/.552 with eight homers. The blast was the 199th of his career (198 as a Cub).

I mentioned that Hendricks was helped out by some stellar defense. Javier Baez in the fourth [VIDEO].

Ben Zobrist, also in the fourth [VIDEO].

Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo in the seventh [VIDEO].

Jason Heyward in the eighth [VIDEO].

And then, the final out of this magnificent performance [VIDEO].

Look, there’s even a smile on Kyle’s face as he gets a hug from Willson Contreras.

For the Cubs as a team, it’s their sixth shutout of the season, which leads the major leagues — no other team has more than three. It’s the second time they’ve thrown back-to-back shutouts, and in the current string of two, Cubs pitchers have allowed five hits and one walk and struck out 16 over their last 18 innings pitched. This team is on an amazing roll and this was the perfect way to begin this year’s competition against the division rival Cardinals, whose fans didn’t have much to say in Wrigley Friday afternoon.

Also in attendance at Wrigley for this one: Tons of Red Sox fans, in town to see their team play on the South Side. I guess they figured they could see two in one day. They certainly got their money’s worth at Wrigley this afternoon! And, they had plenty of time to get to their 7:10 p.m. game vs. the White Sox, as the 2:28 time of game tied for the fastest at Wrigley this year.

The Cubs close the gap in the N.L. Central to 1½ games behind the Cardinals, and the teams are even in the loss column. Saturday, Yu Darvish will start for the Cubs and Michael Wacha will go for the Cardinals. Game time Saturday is 3:05 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be on WGN locally. There’s also a national broadcast on FS1 (no blackouts).

And one final salute from me to Kyle Hendricks. That was a game to treasure forever.