Don’t blame Ryan Dempster if he takes a little extra pride in last year’s historic Cubs championship — as well as the victory against the Nationals to open this postseason run.
The two-time All-Star right-hander hasn’t pitched for the team since 2012 and hasn’t pitched for anybody since October 2013.
But make no mistake: There was a little bit of Dempster on the mound with Kyle Hendricks for Game 7 last November in Cleveland and for Hendricks’ commanding performance in the Cubs’ Game 1 victory Friday night.
“To see somebody that you get traded for turn around and start Game 7 of the World Series and become a fixture in the rotation, it feels good,” said Dempster, a special assistant in the Cubs’ front office. “I didn’t do anything; they’re the ones that made the trade.
“But to see somebody who a couple of years later fills that role that you were pitching with the team, it has meaning to it. I don’t know what the real meaning is, maybe gratifying or a sense of pride [in] another person who enjoys putting the uniform on as much as I did.”
Hendricks’ first Game 1 playoff start was only the most recent instance of that prideful feeling for Dempster, who was the veteran traded to the Rangers to land Hendricks in the final minutes before the 2012 trade deadline.
“All I ever wanted to do when I played for the Cubs was to win a World Series,” said Dempster, their Game 1 playoff starter in 2008. “Now to see the very guy that you were traded for start Game 7 of the World Series, it’s kind of like the second-best thing, I guess, that could happen. At least I had a hand in it.
“That meant something to me.”
It’s hard to imagine it means more to him than Hendricks has meant to the Cubs since his 2014 debut.
The heady command pitcher with an 88 mph fastball and a business degree from Dartmouth might be the healthiest, most reliable, highest-performance starter in the playoff field.
Not even Cubs president Theo Epstein saw that coming when he traded for the Class A pitcher with the intriguing makeup; he said so on the eve of the playoff opener.
Hendricks’ seven scoreless innings against the formidable Nats gave him a 1.98 career postseason ERA, which ranks sixth all-time (minimum seven starts). He has an ERA of 0.63 in his last five postseason starts, and he gives extra comfort to the Cubs, who know he’ll be there again if they need him in a decisive Game 5 of this series.
Dempster, by the way, is being modest when he says he didn’t have anything to do with the player the Cubs eventually landed five years ago.
Dempster, who had full no-trade rights, turned down a move to the Braves that would have brought the Cubs their first choice: right-hander Randall Delgado (career 4.08 ERA, zero playoff appearances).
“Yeah, I made them hold out for the right guy,” Dempster said, smiling. “It’s all serendipitous.”
Hoping for a trade to the Dodgers, Dempster — who spent the hours leading up to the deadline in the Cubs’ offices — eventually consented to the trade to the Rangers for Hendricks and minor-league infielder Christian Villanueva.
“I played here for nine seasons, and to be traded away in a rebuilding process is always tough,” Dempster said. “I always wanted to have the [Cubs] uniform on. But I totally understood it from both sides, from the baseball side and the business side of things.
“To see it all unfold is pretty special. And to see him continue the success into this year and [into] Game 1 of the postseason — he just continues to mature and get better and wiser and smarter, learning and honing his craft.”
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ACE UP CUBS’ SLEEVE
A look at Kyle Hendricks by the numbers:
2.13: Hendricks’ major-league-leading ERA in 2016.
2.19: Hendricks’ ERA in 13 starts after the All-Star break this year (3.03 overall in 2017).
1.98: Hendricks’ ERA in eight career postseason starts, sixth-best all-time (min. seven starts), behind Sandy Koufax* (0.95), Christy Mathewson* (1.06), George Earnshaw (1.58), Waite Hoyt* (1.83) and Bob Gibson* (1.89).
0.63: Hendricks’ ERA in his last five postseason starts.
0.69: Combined ERA this postseason of Cubs starters Hendricks and Jon Lester (one run, 13 innings).
6.42: Combined ERA of the 22 other pitchers to make starts this postseason.
*—Hall of Famer