Hendricks has skill, mindset for World Series stage

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Kyle Hendricks will oppose Indians right-hander Josh Tomlin in Game 3 of the World Series Friday at Wrigley Field. (AP)

The Cubs are giving the ball to Kyle Hendricks in their pivotal Game 3 of the World Series.

They could not be in better hands.

Granted, Jon Lester is the recognized staff ace with the $155 million contract, the Game 1 pitcher in each postseason series, and Jake Arrieta is the defending Cy Young Award winner who possesses superior stuff to Hendricks’ non-threatening yet wonderfully executed arsenal of pitches.

But it’s Hendricks who led the NL with a 2.13 ERA this season, and it’s Hendricks who has pitched to a 1.65 ERA in three postseason starts. The 26—year-old right-hander’s only postseason loss in was a 1-0 Dodgers win behind Clayton Kershaw in Game 2 of the NLCS, and he answered that by pitching 7 1/3 near-perfect innings against the Kershaw and the Dodgers in the NLCS clincher his next time out.

What’s more, Hendricks was 9-2 with a 1.32 ERA in 15 games (14 starts) at Wrigley Field, where Game 3 – the first Fall Classic spectacle of its kind at the Friendly Confines since 1945 – takes place on Friday night.

“Postseason is different,’’ Lester said. “But it goes back to his ability to control his emotions. You never know what stage he’s on, whether it’s a start in April or Game 3 of the World Series. Or Game 6 the other night, one of the biggest games in the history of the organization to get to this point. The guy goes out and gives up two hits.’’

Hendricks is no longer the smart, crafty Dartmouth pitcher that could. He’s the pitcher who is drawing comparisons to Greg Maddux who can and has.

He’s actually been better than Lester and Arrieta this postseason.

“I’m just going to take advantage of it,’’ Hendricks said Thursday. “I mean, how often do you get these opportunities? You dream of it as a kid. This is what you work all year long for.’’

Lester looks at Hendricks, marvels at his calm and thinks Hendricks might be the least nervous person in the ballpark.

“You don’t know if he’s up five or down five when he’s out there,’’ Lester said. “I’m in awe of him as far as what he’s able to do controlling his emotions. As a guy who pitches with emotion it’s impressive to watch.’’

Hendricks does everything slowly and deliberately, manager Joe Maddon said.

“I’ve never seen him rush through anything. I’m sure he takes time brushing his teeth,’’ Maddon said. “I would imagine his cup of coffee takes two hours to drink.’’

Maddon guessed that Hendricks, who plays a good game of golf, has a slow backswing like Walter Hagen’s. To which Hendricks, standing next in line at the off-day interview podium at Wrigley Field Thursday, confirmed.

For him, it’s about mapping out a game plan for his start and executing it.

“It’s easy to have outside forces coming at you — the crowd — you never know what’s going to be going on in a game,’’ Hendricks said. “If you can stay grounded and stay in that mindset, it’s enjoyable for me to try to find that state, that zone, I would say. You’ve got to have a love for the game, I think, to always be striving towards that. But it’s obviously a fun, fun part of the game for me.’’

Game 3 of the World Series. As a pitcher who has been excellent and is the calmest guy in the room, Hendricks seems the perfect choice to start the biggest event Wrigley Field has staged in most of our lifetimes.

What could be more fun than that?

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Email: dvanschouwen@suntimes.co

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