Kyle Hendricks comes through as Cubs salvage series vs. Cardinals

Hendricks allows one run in eight innings in the Cubs’ 5-1 victory. He set a franchise record by going 38 consecutive starts with two walks or fewer.

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Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks delivers during the first inning Monday against the Cardinals.

Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks delivers during the first inning Monday against the Cardinals.

Paul Beaty/AP

It wouldn’t be hyperbolic to call the Cubs’ game against the Cardinals on Monday at Wrigley Field — a 5-1 victory — their biggest of the shortened season.

After three consecutive losses to the Cardinals on Saturday and Sunday, the Cubs’ once-large lead in the National League Central had withered to 1½ games, putting the onus on them to play like a division leader. They also needed right-hander Kyle Hendricks to pitch like an ace or risk their lead shrinking to half a game.

They got both, with Hendricks playing stopper and finding his signature form.

“That’s the version of Kyle that I think we’re used to seeing,” manager David Ross said.

It had been awhile since Hendricks (5-4) had everything working, including fastball command and his full four-pitch mix. But Hendricks, who had grinded his way through his last start Wednesday against the Pirates with only three of the four pitches, had it all humming as he navigated his way through a Cardinals lineup that had done damage over the weekend.

“I thought he read swings really well,” Ross said. “I thought he commanded the fastball as well as I’ve seen this year — maybe since his first start. So, yeah, he was really, really spot on.”

Outfielder Cameron Maybin, who joined the Cubs after a trade from the Tigers last week, agreed.

“I’ve had a chance to face [Hendricks], and it can be a frustrating at-bat, and you saw that today,” Maybin said. “On the other side facing him for a long time, I [used to] tell my other teammates, ‘You know we’re facing Baby [Greg] Maddux,’ because he can throw the ball wherever he wants to throw it.”

Hendricks admitted after throwing a season-low 18 changeups against the Pirates that his offspeed pitch hadn’t been feeling great, but it was effective Monday and helped him induce two of the Cubs’ three double plays.

“It was weird,” Hendricks said. “It was just one of those things where after the Pittsburgh start, the day after, I go out to play catch real light. and my changeup was the best it’s felt that day. It kind of just came from there. [In] my bullpen, it was really good, and again today. That’s just how it works. It’s such a feel pitch that it just ended up being there after this last start. So hopefully, we can keep it right where it is, because that’s obviously a big pitch for me.”

Hendricks pitched eight innings of one-run ball, allowing seven hits, and capped off the stellar outing by fanning Kolten Wong for his fourth strikeout of the game.

It was Hendricks’ longest outing in more than a month and his longest since throwing a complete-game shutout against the Brewers on Opening Day. He didn’t allow a walk and set a Cubs franchise record with his 38th consecutive start with two walks or fewer — the longest such streak by a Cubs pitcher since at least 1901.

“In the back of your mind, you know the importance of the game,” Hendricks said. “You know what we’ve got coming up with no off days and don’t want to tax the bullpen. But you can’t really pitch that way.

“Guys were making plays behind me. Those three double plays were huge, and then great at-bats, just keep adding on runs to increase the lead there, so I could keep being aggressive. Everything kind of clicked today.”

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