Hendricks cracks late as Cubs drop Game 1

October 2nd, 2020

CHICAGO -- had escaped a handful of problematic situations. When the Cubs’ starter needed an out, he got one. Ground balls were erasing baserunners, and Hendricks was showing precisely why he was so trusted to set the tone for Chicago's playoff run.

During the seventh inning on Wednesday, Hendricks was trusted again to handle one more batter as Game 1 of the National League Wild Card Series against the Marlins reached another critical moment. That led to an unraveling that sent the Cubs to a stunning 5-1 loss at Wrigley Field.

“You trust in the guy that got you there,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “I trusted him all year long.”

Now, Chicago is counting on NL Cy Young Award contender to help even the best-of-three series in Game 2 on Thursday. After all the talk of recapturing the glory of the 2016 World Series run, the Cubs are now facing elimination and staring down the possibility of an early winter.

“No panic,” Hendricks said. “We've got the guy we want on the mound tomorrow for us, for sure.”

With the Cubs clinging to a 1-0 advantage, Hendricks' 106th pitch of the afternoon found the barrel of Corey Dickerson's bat. The baseball cut through a strong wind and slammed just over the bricks and ivy for a go-ahead three-run homer. That closed the book on what had been a brilliant showing for the Cubs' starter.

Compounding matters for Chicago was another disappearing act from a lineup that labored over much of the 60-game season. Miami righty Sandy Alcantara lit up the radar gun and subdued the local nine over his 6 2/3 innings -- with the exception of Ian Happ's two-out solo homer in the fifth.

The Cubs posted a .210/.315/.354 slash line as a team at home this season, and the postseason reset did not correct that ongoing issue. And the Game 1 offensive woes only magnified any mistake made by Hendricks, not to mention the seventh-inning decision-making by Ross.

“Kyle pitched his tail off today,” Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “In the playoffs, runs are usually at a premium, but we’ve got to do a better job and get him more than one.”

Hendricks relied heavily on fastballs early on -- firing 40 of his first 49 pitches through three innings -- before turning more often to the changeup and curve. Even as the righty worked to find his rhythm, he was able to navigate out of some jams in an effort to buy time for the Cubs' offense.

Jesús Aguilar led off the fourth with a double, but then Hendricks used three grounders to escape unscathed. Hendricks had runners on first and second with no outs in the fifth, but used two ground balls to generate a double play and an inning-ending out to once again walk off with no runs on his line.

In the sixth inning, Hendricks gave up a leadoff double to Starling Marte and later issued a two-out walk to Garrett Cooper. That gave the Cubs starter three walks in the outing, following a franchise-record streak of 41 straight regular-season starts with no more than two free passes allowed. Matt Joyce flew out to strand both runners.

“He just continued to make pitches -- made really good pitches,” Ross said. “I felt like he was off the barrel a lot. I thought he manipulated the lineup really well. Pitched out of some jams that we put him in. I thought he did a nice job.”

All that bending caught up with the Cubs in the seventh.

With one out, Hendricks allowed consecutive one-out singles to Miguel Rojas and Chad Wallach. The lefty-swinging Dickerson was next. High-leverage reliever Jeremy Jeffress -- a righty with a knack for inducing grounders -- was warming in the Chicago bullpen. Jeffress had good numbers against lefties (.459 OPS) this year, but so did Hendricks (.567 OPS).

Ross also studied the matchups and considered Hendricks’ history with Dickerson.

To that point, the lefty-hitting outfielder had a lineout to left, a walk and a groundout against Hendricks in the game. In their regular-season history, Hendricks had held Dickerson to a 4-for-16 showing with no home runs. The more recent history included a 1-for-8 showing since 2018.

“You look at the history of what Dickerson's done off Kyle,” Ross said. “No real damage there.”

That changed when Dickerson attacked a first-pitch fastball, sending it out to left-center for the momentum-swinging shot. Jeffress then entered and -- two batters into his outing -- allowed a two-run homer to Aguilar, who sent the ball clanking off the video board just above the right-field basket.

“He has been good for a long time,” Dickerson said of Hendricks. “It was about getting a good pitch, and don't miss it.”

Dickerson did just that, and now the Cubs’ season has suddenly been pushed to the brink.

“That wasn't a bad pitch -- he just jumped on it,” Hendricks said. “He was sitting on it and he didn't miss it. Put a really good swing on it. There's just nothing you can do there. It's unfortunate.”