CHICAGO -- The text arrived early Saturday, just as it does on the morning before each of the son's starts. John Hendricks scripts it to be simple -- "You don't want to clutter him" -- and positive, hoping it's a reminder that Dad is watching and rooting and so very
CHICAGO -- The text arrived early Saturday, just as it does on the morning before each of the son's starts. John Hendricks scripts it to be simple -- "You don't want to clutter him" -- and positive, hoping it's a reminder that Dad is watching and rooting and so very proud.
"Good luck tonight," started the message to a 26-year-old about to make the biggest start of his life. "Remember, great mechanics and preparation will prevail. Just let it go."
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Hours later, cramped inside Wrigley Field among the sellout crowd of 42,386, John Hendricks watched through a father's eyes as his son, Kyle, carved up the Dodgers' lineup over 7 1/3 innings to lift the Cubs to a 5-0 victory in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series. The win sent the franchise to its first World Series since 1945.
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Hendricks, appearing entirely unfazed by the moment, and Aroldis Chapman, who took the ball with one out in the eighth, combined to face the minimum, never allowing the Dodgers to move a man as far as second base.
"He didn't flinch," marveled first baseman Anthony Rizzo afterward.
"The unsung hero of this team," Kris Bryant called him.
Hendricks pitched the game of his life to get the Cubs to where they haven't been in the lifetimes of most on hand at a rocking Wrigley Field. And he became the first pitcher in baseball history to throw seven-plus scoreless innings and allow two or fewer baserunners in a potential postseason clincher.
"It doesn't really seem like reality around here," said a champagne-soaked Hendricks. "There's so much going on around here. I'm just trying to soak in the snapshots right now, so I can remember later."
Hendricks recalled feeling sharp in his pregame bullpen session, though the first batter he faced, Andrew Toles, reached on a first-pitch single. That was as precarious as things would get all night. On his next pitch, Hendricks induced a double play that calmed the nerves and initiated a clinic in pitching from the regular-season's ERA leader.
After picking off a runner for the second out of the second inning, Hendricks proceeded to retire every hitter thereafter until Josh Reddick's one-out single in the eighth. His night ended there at 88 pitches.
"He was unbelievable, phenomenal," catcher Willson Contreras said. "I just put my fingers down. He executed the pitches."
In doing so, Hendricks upstaged the greatest pitcher of his generation. While so many wondered how dominant Clayton Kershaw might be on this stage, it was Hendricks who introduced himself to those who may have missed his standout regular season.
With velocity that maxed out at 90.5 mph, Hendricks displayed the sort of command that prompted Kershaw to evoke the name Greg Maddux when describing his opponent before the game.
Being staked to a two-run lead in the first and a four-run lead by the fourth helped set the tone for Hendricks, as it allowed him the freedom to go after Dodgers' hitters in a way he didn't when there was no breathing room in Game 2. And he did it with remarkable composure, hardly cracking a grin or a scowl or anything else that may have indicated all that was at stake.
"That's the only way you can be, honestly," Hendricks said. "At the end of the day, your sole focus has to be making good pitches. All I was trying to do was to do that. I treated the day like any other start."
Not until he walked off the field to a rousing standing ovation did Hendricks allow himself to soak up the moment and absorb what he had just done. He waved to the crowd before dipping into the dugout, where he waited with anticipation before joining the midfield mob upon the Cubs' series-ending double play.
"We give him a hard time, because he never shows emotion, but this guy has done it all year," starter Jon Lester said. "He had the toughest task out of all of us. He had to face Kershaw twice. He deserves what he got tonight -- a win on the biggest stage against one of the best pitchers that could ever go down in the history of the game."
Hendricks did finally crack a smile when it was all over and, in a poignant personal moment amid a raucous celebration, gathered with his family for a group embrace.
"I'm just numb," John Hendricks said. "No matter what he's done in life, whether it was sports or school, he's always had that poise. I've obviously watched him since he could walk and throw a baseball, and that was his dream. To live out his dream in Wrigley Field, it's unbelievable."
Jenifer Langosch has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2007.