As he walked off the mound after failing to record an out in the 9th inning of Tuesday’s win, Kyle Hendricks dropped a pair of what my rudimentary lip-reading skills discerned as F-bombs. What’s remarkable isn’t that he was a bit cheesed, but that the two fudge pops equaled the combined number of runs and walks he’d allowed over his last 25 innings of work.
How’s that for sweet emotion, huh?
The stoic starter wasn’t mad at Joe Maddon for giving him the hook, he was upset with himself for letting rookie Nick Senzel beat him. The late walk probably cost Hendricks his second complete game in his last three starts and forced his exit from the game. Not because he’d thrown too many pitches, but because Joey Votto — the man whose 4th-inning homer was the only run Hendricks has given up in those three games — was due up.
Maddon said afterwards that he’d have stuck with his starter had it been any other Reds hitter stepping up, and Hendricks knew it as soon as ball four sailed high to Senzel. With the tying run at the plate and a chance to get a more favorable matchup, it only made sense. No need to risk having the home team actually surpass the visiting pitcher in terms of hits or runs driven in.
Yeah, that’s right: Hendricks helped his own cause with a two-run double earlier in the game, the first of his three hits on the evening.
“I didn’t even know what was going on out there,” Hendricks joked after the game with what appeared to be an honest-to-goodness grin. “Just having fun with the guys in the dugout, though, for sure. Yeah, that was a lot of fun.”
Whoa, whoa, who replaced our stodgy Professor with this hedonistic undergrad? I’m not sure this kind of “fun” business is indicative of the kind of edge and urgency we were told to expect from this team. Theo Epstein had better get his ass to a phone stat and punch up Alex Anthopoulos in Atlanta to see about trading for crusty backstop Brian McCann.
Thankfully, Hendricks’ bout of revelry was short-lived and he got back down to business when talking about his performance.
“My fastball was really good again, the command, kinda from the start,” he explained with nary a trace of humor. “It starts with the mindset again. The last few starts I’ve been on a roll with that, and Willy [Contreras] and I are just locked in on the same page so every pitch he knows what I’m wanting to do and I know what he’s kinda thinking.
“So it helps a lot. We’re going at a great tempo and everything’s working off my fastball right now.”
Okay, that’s more like it. Maybe Epstein can hold off on dialing 9-1-1 for Officer McCann of the MLB Fun Police. In all seriousness, because we need more of that around these parts, it’s good to see and hear Hendricks vibing so well with Willson Contreras. The exuberant catcher doesn’t have a reputation for being the quietest receiver and his style hasn’t always appeared to mesh with members of the rotation.
As the season has gone on, however, it seems as though the whole team has discovered that slipstream in which everyone is able to move effortlessly as one.
“I like what it looks like right now,” Maddon said before the game. “I mean, the vibe cannot be topped. The feeling among the group is outstanding.”
That feeling isn’t perpetually self-sustaining, though, it needs to be fed and fostered with performances like the one Hendricks put up Tuesday night. You can see it in the way Albert Almora Jr. went to the wall to rob Derek Dietrich or how Daniel Descalso laid out to make a stop on a Tucker Barnhart grounder to end a threat in the 5th inning.
The best teams find ways to make things happen, not only because they have elite talent, but because they all draw from one another to become better than they would be as individuals. Does that sound cheesy? Probably. Doesn’t mean it’s not true.
Nor is it always easy. The Cubs fell flat on their collective face after an Opening Day win, just as Hendricks battled command and control problems over the course of his first few starts. But dude is on one now, maybe at a higher level than we’ve ever seen him achieve in the past. And to hear him describe it, he could still improve.
“I’m doing a lot better things,” Hendricks admitted. “Early in the season I was just making so many bad pitches. At least today, I’m making a couple bad pitches still, but at least my mindset’s there.
“I’m being aggressive, conviction.”