Nine in­nings? Com­plete relics

Starters not go­ing dis­tance is norm nowa­days

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - CUBS - Paul Sul­li­van

Kyle Hen­dricks faced the Di­a­mond­backs on Fri­day night at Chase Field know­ing that throw­ing a com­plete game was un­likely.

In the first four weeks of the sea­son head­ing into Fri­day’s games, only four starters had thrown one: Derek Hol­land, Mike Mi­nor, Jame­son Tail­lon and Ger­man Mar­quez. Hen­dricks has only three com­plete games in his ca­reer and none since 2016.

“I think it’s dy­ing off,” Hen­dricks said Thurs­day at Wrigley Field. “You’re def­i­nitely not seeing a lot of them. I would love to throw one if I’m in that sit­u­a­tion and my pitch count is low and I can go out for the ninth. But when I go into a game, it’s not a goal of mine nec­es­sar­ily.

“We go into the game and it’s just try­ing to make the first good pitch and go from there, try to get as many outs as you can with that. It’s not our job to make the move. It’s def­i­nitely dy­ing off and for good rea­son. There are so many good arms in the back of the bullpen now that you’d rather have a fresh guy com­ing out than a guy that’s tir­ing.”

Hen­dricks was com­ing off his best out­ing of the sea­son, throw­ing seven shutout in­nings and strik­ing out 11 in a win over the Di­a­mond­backs on April 19 at Wrigley. He threw 100 pitches for the first time in his four starts.

On Fri­day, he took a step back, al­low­ing seven earned runs on 10 hits in five in­nings against the Di­a­mond­backs in an 8-3 loss.

Jose Quin­tana, who is sched­uled to start Sun­day, also is com­ing off his high­est pitch count — 114 in seven in­nings Mon­day against the Dodgers — while Cole Hamels was al­lowed to throw a sea­son-high 112 pitches the next day in a 5 1⁄3-in­ning out­ing that in­cluded six walks.

With an in­con­sis­tent bullpen and a dom­i­nat­ing ro­ta­tion the last two weeks, man­ager Joe Mad­don has put more trust in his starters.

“Def­i­nitely, we’ve talked about how we want to carry the load and we like to put that on our shoul­ders,” Hen­dricks said. “Joe knows that too. He has a real good eye, and he knows us all so well by this point, he can see when a guy is rolling and when a guy is not. With ‘Q’ the other night, he’s been so locked in, and when he’s like that and stay­ing in his me­chan­ics, Joe knows he can roll him out there for 100-plus (pitches).

“We know we have to prove it and make the pitches to get his trust to do that, but if we ex­e­cute and do what we need to do, then he’ll let us roll. We know it’s kind of un­der our con­trol and in our power, so it’s one of our goals when we go out there.”

The obituary for the com­plete game was writ­ten years ago, so no need to send con­do­lence cards. The high price of start­ing pitch­ing, the pro­lif­er­a­tion of re­liev­ers with 95-plus mph fast­balls and an­a­lyt­ics show­ing ex­actly when a starter’s ef­fec­tive­ness has peaked were all con­tribut­ing fac­tors to its demise.

None of these fac­tors was un­der con­sid­er­a­tion 99 years ago Mon­day, when Brook­lyn Robins starter Leon Cadore and Bos­ton Braves starter Joe Oeschger du­eled for 26 in­nings in Bos­ton in a game that ended in a 1-1 tie. Cadore al­lowed one run on 15 hits with five walks and seven strike­outs. Oeschger al­lowed one run on nine hits with four walks and seven strike­outs.

Pitch counts weren’t recorded, though the game lasted 3 hours, 50 min­utes, much like a mod­ern-day, nine-in­ning Yan­kees-Red Sox game.

What were the ef­fects of throw­ing nearly three com­plete games in one af­ter­noon? Former Tri­bune base­ball writer Jerome Holtz­man wrote Cadore a let­ter in 1956 ask­ing about the game and later pub­lished parts of Cadore’s re­sponse:

“You ask, do I think the long game had any ef­fect on my arm, etc.? Well, all I can say, first, it surely was a good al­ibi; sec­ond, all I know, while this was com­par­a­tively young in the sea­son — May 1 was the first day of Day­light Sav­ing Time, which made it pos­si­ble to go the 26-in­ning route — I felt I had to press a lit­tle harder to get the same stuff on the ball that I could do ef­fort­less, so to speak, be­fore the long game.

“I couldn’t raise my right arm for a cou­ple of days af­ter the big one, and as far as sleep­ing for a cou­ple days, well, that is for the birds. Sure, I was tired and did do a lit­tle sleep­ing, which re­minds me that Wil­bert Robin­son, our man­ager then, in the 20th in­ning asked if I was get­ting tired.

“I re­mem­ber say­ing, ‘Sure, but I can go one more,’ fig­ur­ing some­thing just had to hap­pen one way or the other, and that is the way it went to the 26th. The um­pires hud­dled and de­cided it would be a shame had ei­ther pitcher lost a game like this and called it. True, maybe a cou­ple of more in­nings could have been played. But what a crime it would have been to have a loss marked up against ei­ther pitcher.”

Sleep­ing still is for the birds 99 years later, but let­ting a pitcher stay in a game so long he couldn’t raise his arm for a cou­ple of days would amount to man­age­rial mal­prac­tice, even if it’s 120 pitches in­stead of 26 in­nings. But if you came of age when Fergie Jenk­ins and Bob Gib­son fre­quently were locked in pitch­ing du­els that both re­fused to leave, you feel a lit­tle sad there’s lit­tle chance of seeing one starter go all nine in­nings, much less both.

As much as it makes sense to lift starters for fresher arms, I still miss watch­ing com­plete games.

“So do I,” Hen­dricks said. “I loved watch­ing them as a fan grow­ing up. I loved the pitch­ing du­els. But there’s not too many of them any­more.”

On those rare oc­ca­sions they do oc­cur, you ap­pre­ci­ate them a lot more.


Kyle Hen­dricks de­liv­ers a first-in­ning pitch Fri­day night against the Di­a­mond­backs. He has three com­plete games in his ca­reer.

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