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Yo, ho, ho: Kyle Hendricks strong in loss as Cubs await Pirates, party time

If you thought the Cubs’ first 89 postgame parties this season were teammate-moshing, head-banging good, wait till the next one. Or maybe the one after that.

Whenever the Cubs clinch this playoff berth they’ve been circling like a bird of prey for months, manager Joe Maddon promises perhaps the biggest raise-the-roof celebration a third-place team has ever thrown.

“As big as it can possibly be,” he said. “You celebrate achievement all the time. I love the fact we celebrate every night. It has a bonding effect among the group, and then when you go beyond that, celebrate just a little bit harder.”

The party was pushed back until at least Friday after the Cubs lost 4-1 to the Brewers on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field.

But the disco ball is ready, and the party animals un-caged in a clubhouse staged for revelry – even as the boss preaches more business to take care of with 10 games left.

Namely, catching the Pirates – who open a three-game series at Wrigley on Friday – for the home-field advantage in the National League wild-card game. And more specifically, keeping sights set on the Cardinals for the division title – a point Maddon reiterated on a day the Cubs dropped to seven games behind the Cards.

So why make such a big, cork-popping deal out of a wild-card clinch instead of waiting until bigger prizes?

“We’re going to celebrate then, too; I promise you,” Maddon said. “You celebrate along the way because the threat is you may never get to the end, so why miss all these opportunities to celebrate achievement?”

The Cubs have held a light-flashing, smoke-machine, beer-pouring party after every victory this season – finally taking some of the show onto the field after Jake Arrieta’s 20th win Tuesday night.

“I don’t know how much bigger it can get, but I guess there’s always room for improvement,” said starter Kyle Hendricks (7-7), who had reason to celebrate one of his better starts of the second half Wednesday as he tries to rebuild trust for a spot in the playoff rotation.

Hendricks retired the first 14 he faced before allowing an infield single, then retired four of the next five, before getting tagged for a quick double and RBI single by Adam Lind and Khris Davis leading off the seventh.

He was pulled in favor of struggling Justin Grimm – who walked three of the five batters he faced and allowed the inherited run to score.

It was just the third time in 13 starts since the All-Star break that Hendricks has pitched into the seventh (needing just 78 pitches) and came six days after lasting just three innings in Pittsburgh.

“Kyle pitched really well,” said Maddon, who praised Brewers rookie starter Zach Davies. “We just didn’t score any runs.”

Hendricks, who has two starts left during the regular season, knows what’s at stake with his performance down the stretch.

“I think the way things have been going for me I’ve really got to simplify and take things day to day,” said Hendricks, who said he rediscovered his delivery “lane” Wednesday, which made his changeup deadly once he established the fastball.

“I’ve got to focus on coming in tomorrow and getting my throwing session and hopefully get this same sensation and feeling of being in my lane and getting out front and getting the ball down. … It’s kind of exciting.

“It didn’t work out in the end for us, but overall, personally, I’ve just got to take some good things from that one tonight and build on it.”

As recently as Tuesday Maddon left open the possibility of going to a bullpen day to cover a rotation slot in the playoffs (think Travis Wood-Trevor Cahill-Clayton Richard as a three-headed left-right-left starter).

If nothing else, it added significant weight to the remaining starts of Hendricks and struggling Jason Hammel – the “fluid” part of the rotation after Arrieta and Jon Lester.

“We’ve seen how good they both can be,” Maddon said. “We know how good they are. Neither one’s hurt. Neither one’s overextended in innings or number of pitches thrown. … Believe me, I have a lot of faith.

So enjoy the off day Thursday, Maddon says to his team.

“You’re not going to win every one,” he said. “We won the series.”

And party on. Especially on clinch day.

“It could go longer,” Maddon mused. “We have constraints in a sense. You’ve got to go home. You’ve got to get in the next day.

“Listen, the word party’s taken on a negative connotation in our country these days. It’s really bumming me out.”

It obviously hasn’t hurt the team’s efforts so far this season.

“There’s nothing wrong with having a good party,” Maddon said. “There’s not a thing wrong with it. So if you have an opportunity to have a good party, go out and have one. It’s OK to have a good time.”