KYLE KEEPS IT IN REACH

Pulled af­ter 4 in­nings, team­mates come back to take him off hook

Chicago Sun-Times - - CUBS EXTRA - Fol­low me on Twit­ter @ SLGreen­berg. STEVE GREEN­BERG

WASH­ING­TON — There was a Twit­ter poll that made the rounds Thurs­day, lead­ing into Game 5 of the Na­tional League Di­vi­sion Se­ries between the Cubs and Na­tion­als, and it blew up in the face of the smart- alecky me­dia nud­nik who cre­ated it.

“In what in­ning,” he wrote — OK, fine, I wrote — “will Joe Mad­don pre­ma­turely lift Kyle Hen­dricks tonight?”

The choices were the sixth, the fifth and even ear­lier than that. By the time about 1,300 peo­ple had re­sponded, 43 per­cent were fore­see­ing an ex­tra- early hook from the man­ager.

But don’t blame them. I’m the one who of­fered up a faulty premise. I didn’t ask if Mad­don would pull Hen­dricks too soon — as he in­fa­mously did in Game 7 of the World Se­ries last sea­son — but rather when he would do it.

In hind­sight, imag­ine the nerve of as­sum­ing any­thing about Game 5 between the Cubs and Nats, which un­rav­eled into an event so strange and un­pre­dictable, baseball an­a­lysts and his­to­ri­ans will ru­mi­nate on it for a long time.

As it turned out, Mad­don did pull Hen­dricks be­fore the fifth in­ning. Yet he stayed with the strug­gling right- han­der quite a bit longer than a lot of man­agers would have. He stayed with him even af­ter Michael Tay­lor’s three­run home run in the sec­ond in­ning put the Cubs in a 4- 1 hole. I don’t know about you, but that’s when I fig­ured Hen­dricks’ night was over.

It’s al­most like Mad­don wasn’t pulling our legs at all be­fore the game when he said: “I think you’ve got to give Kyle a lit­tle more lee­way tonight based on the ca­chet that he’s built.”

Give Mad­don credit for stick­ing with his guy for four in­nings — which doesn’t sound like much, but in this stu­pen­dously drunk game was a vi­tal stretch — and give Hen­dricks a tip of the cap for sur­viv­ing that long.

“Hoo- dog­gie,” Mad­don, wear­ing gog­gles, said right af­ter get­ting doused in the postgame cel­e­bra­tion. “God bless Amer­ica.”

Hen­dricks didn’t look like the guy who out­du­eled the Dodgers’ Clayton Ker­shaw in the NL Cham­pi­onship Se­ries clincher last Oc­to­ber. He didn’t look like the guy who would’ve won Game 7 against the In­di­ans if only his man­ager had let him. He looked like a skinny pitcher who, with­out a great many nat­u­ral gifts, was merely try­ing to hold things to­gether.

But let’s not for­get how ex­tra­or­di­nary the re­sults have been dur­ing Hen­dricks’ time in the big leagues, all with the Cubs. His ca­reer reg­u­lar- sea­son ERA of 2.94 is sec­ond among ac­tive pitch­ers with at least 75 starts, be­hind only Ker­shaw’s. He came into Game 5 with a 1.98 ERA in eight post­sea­son starts.

And through­out the last twoplus months of this sea­son, he re­peat­edly picked up his team. When Jon Lester was strug­gling or in­jured, when Jake Ar­ri­eta had a rough go with his ham­string, when se­ries popped up here or there and the Cubs just weren’t hit­ting, Hen­dricks re­sponded with ex­cel­lence. There were times it seemed he couldn’t buy one in his own vic­tory col­umn, but Hen­dricks had a minis­cule 2.19 ERA in 13 starts af­ter re­turn­ing from the dis­abled list in late July.

In Game 5, ev­ery­one in the build­ing picked Hen­dricks up. His team­mates, who pulled to­gether nine runs with much help from the oft- bum­bling Nats. The Nats them­selves, who made enough mis­takes to fill an en­tire post­sea­son. The great Max Scherzer, who fal­tered when called upon out of the bullpen. Wade Davis, who took the long road for the best non- World Se­ries save of his ca­reer.

They all took Hen­dricks off the hook on a rare night when he could’ve been the goat. Quick poll: Who’s OK with that? Me, too.

Kyle Hen­dricks gave up four runs and nine hits Thurs­day but avoided dis­as­ter af­ter the sec­ond in­ning. | PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS/ AP

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