TELANDER: It’s up to Kyle Hendricks to save Cubs’ season
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It has come down to this: The quiet, cerebral man from Dartmouth with the 89 mph fastball must be the Cubs’ savior.
It’s up to right-hander Kyle Hendricks, a k a “The Professor,’’ to win Game 5 Thursday night in Washington and do what his compatriots have not been able to do. That is, close the door on these comeback Nationals and move on to the National League Championship Series against the waiting Dodgers.
Wednesday at Wrigley Field in weather imported from the moors of northern Scotland, the Cubs threw everything they had at the Nationals — including two starting pitchers, their ninth-inning closer in the eighth inning and reliever Carl Edwards Jr., whose series ERA is 19.29 — and it all backfired or plain didn’t work.
Kudos to ace left-hander Jon Lester for pitching 3‰ innings of one-hit, one-run ball in relief of starter Jake Arrieta. But the net effect? Zero.
When your big sluggers — Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo — go 0-for-7 with six strikeouts and shortstop Addison Russell goes 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and an error afield, you can pretty much put the cork in the offensive barrel. Nobody has ever won a real game scoring nothing.
So Hendricks is the guy to stop this nonsense.
Of course, he’ll need some support from an offense that has scored six earned runs in four games. That’s bad, or maybe just reality when good hitters meet great pitchers such as Max Scherzer and this uncommon fellow, Stephen Strasburg.
The Cubs’ big-time pitchers, Arrieta and Lester, have done pretty well, but it was the careful, precise Hendricks who started Game 1 of this NL Division Series and beat the Nationals 3-0, throwing seven scoreless innings.
Hendricks’ career postseason ERA is 1.98, and if he has just a middling fastball, his other pitches move and break late and are thrown with the cunning and deception of a sneaky card sharp.
“He goes about his business in such a way where if you just watch him work, the confidence is there, and it builds confidence throughout this team,’’ Russell said.
You probably couldn’t tell if Hendricks were in a rage or mellowed out in bliss because his expression and demeanor seldom change. He is a study in concentration and focus on the mound, and he’ll need to be laser-sharp Thursday.
“He pitched a great Game 1,’’ veteran Ben Zobrist said. “We’re going to need him to stop them again, and we’re going to get the bats going a little bit more.’’
Well, if the bats don’t go a little bit more, they might as well be sawdust. The team batting average in this series is a mere .159. For the 2017 regular season, it was .255.
“We’ve got to score some runs for him,’’ Rizzo said. “That’s plain and simple.’’
It’s fascinating that in a sport in which the power and speed of virtually all the parts have increased dramatically, Hendricks still can dominate.
If anybody remembers Greg Maddux back in his Cubs days, they might have an inkling of what kind of control and precision Hendricks can bring to a game. Plus hidden passion.
I like to mention the time I suggested to Maddux, also called “The Professor’’ at times, that his 88 mph fastball wasn’t exactly a blur. “Eighty-eight is fast enough!’’ he snapped.
“I don’t think there’s a better scenario for us if we had to play a Game 5,’’ Arrieta said of Hendricks.
The Ivy League guy with the economics degree shall lead them. Game 5 is on.
Follow me on Twitter @ricktelander.