By Cat Garcia
On June 19, 2015, Kyle Hendricks allowed six earned runs off of eleven hits at Target Field against the Minnesota Twins.
On June 19, 2016, Kyle Hendricks struck out a career high twelve batters in just six innings of work and allowed just one run at Wrigley Field against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
That’s become a metaphor for Hendricks’ success in 2016. Hendricks went from hearing doubts whispered throughout baseball concerning his viability as a major league starter to becoming one of the strongest pitchers the Cubs pitching staff has.
And now, on from winning the National League ERA title this season, the biggest feat of all is upon him this evening: starting Game 7 of the World Series for the team with the longest championship drought in sports history.
The success Hendricks has seen in 2016 has come together so quickly and so strongly that when someone hears that Hendricks is the man left to the task for a game with stakes this high — arguably one of the most important games in sports history — hesitance takes over.
The solidification that facts present to you often don’t take precedent in the mind over the memories of a number five starter who threw just two different pitches and was never quite able to get through a batting order successfully a third time.
But if the postseason is only as strong as what it can see in its rearview mirror, as Jake Arrieta showed us in the second half of last season and beyond – the past tells us nothing and momentum tells us everything. The postseason isn’t about what Hendricks or anyone did in June (or in 2015, for that matter) it’s about what’s in the periphery of recency. All that is in that periphery for Hendricks this October is a 1.31 ERA, 17 strikeouts, and just three earned runs allowed over 20.2 innings pitched.
The addition of a strong third pitch, a changeup, has aided Hendricks’ success this season in ways that have allowed him to unleash the dominant, cerebral starter that many felt he could be since day one. From drawing Greg Maddux comparisons to emotion-fueled chatter that Hendricks’ had no place on a major league roster, Hendricks’ has heard it all and he’s making sure to reaffirm the belief that was instilled in him from fans and silence the hesitation from doubtful onlookers. The righthander has made himself heard in 2016, and he’s about to take the ultimate stage of redemption tonight in Cleveland for his team who are resting upon him the weight of their 108-year-old burden.
Hendricks won’t fight the battle alone though. The Cubs announced earlier today that starter Jon Lester will be available out of the bullpen for this evening’s game. Lester has been brilliant this postseason for the Cubs as always, pitching 32.2 innings with 26 strikeouts, allowing seven earned runs with his postseason ERA in 2016 now just 1.93. Lester would be working off of two days rest after pitching Game 5 on Sunday evening at Wrigley Field – what would be his regular workout day.
Jake Arrieta has also stated that should the occasion arise, he is also available out of the bullpen. Arrieta started Game 6 last night for the Cubs and provided one of the most important starts in franchise history, going 5.2 innings with nine strikeouts.
“I’ll definitely be available if outs are needed,” Arrieta told the media Tuesday evening in Cleveland. “Last game of the year … everybody’s available pretty much.”
It’s all hands on deck in Cleveland this evening, and both teams are hungry for the championship. Indians ace Corey Kluber has been outstanding this October, but if Game 7 of the World Series comes down to a battle of wills the case for the Cubs rests in being just nine innings away from sports history.
Game 7 of the World Series is tonight, first pitch at 7:00 p.m. on FOX39 and WSCR AM670. Television coverage begins at 6 p.m.