Kyle Hendricks is my mom. That’s the revelation I had when thinking of a way to describe one of the Cubs’ two Cy Young candidates. He’s not flashy and he does nothing to draw attention to himself. You wouldn’t pick him out of a lineup if asked to identify the pitcher most likely to lead the majors in ERA. Yet there he is at the top of the list, his sterling results the product of a consistent approach and intelligent pitching.
My mom’s kind of the same way and I took that for granted a lot when I was younger. She and my dad got married when they were only 19 and she went into nursing, serving as our family’s primary breadwinner for at least a few years during the time my dad was going back to school to get his teaching degree. Come to think of it, she’s probably been the primary breadwinner for most of the time before and since, as neither farmers (at least the ones who aren’t huge) nor teachers get paid a whole lot.
As a boy, it’s easier to identify with your father because he’s usually the one out there teaching you how to swing a bat or shoot a basketball. Then when he starts a lawn care business, eventually quitting his teaching job for it, you work with him cutting grass and picking up leaves and shoveling snow and so on. Mom can’t throw a ball and that’s not really her thing, but she’s there at every game even when you aren’t good enough to get off the bench.
She’s the one who noticed that your right side looks like something more sinister than you just being a tubby baby, and checking into it eventually led to two kidney surgeries. She’s the one who took you to piano practice and was there with you when you had to have knee reconstruction, throwing up in the car because she was worried about the events of the next morning (or maybe she just had a bug, though my way is better for the story).
She shared stories about the people she cared for as a home health nurse so you’d understand that even though you couldn’t get those Jordans you really wanted, you were a lot better off than most of the other folks out there. Dad’s the one you talk to most, but mom’s been the one there keeping everything moving forward.
And that’s how I see Kyle Hendricks, a guy who just keeps his head down and goes about his business in a manner that would have flown under the radar but for the fact that he’s now cruising so low he’s buzzing our rooftops.
With Monday’s just-another-day performance in which he allowed no runs in 6 innings, scattering seven hits and walking none while striking out five Pirates, Hendricks pulled his league-leading ERA under 2.00 and picked up his 16th win. Yawn. He won’t get to those round numbers of 20 wins or 200 innings and he might not even strike out 170 batters, but he’s been getting the job done all season long.
Consider that in 29 starts, Hendricks has only allowed as many as 4 earned runs twice and has only allowed 3 runs three times. Since June 24, a span of 16 starts, The Professor has held opponents to one or no earned runs 12 times. His ERA over that stretch: 1.28. I’ve written about his league-best changeup and his overall approach, and I know dozens of other writers have broken down his performance in more astute terms and with better numbers.
That stuff’s all well and good, but something I saw from him Monday night spoke volumes about his value. And it had nothing to do with his pitching. Well, I guess it kinda did, just not in the sense of Hendricks throwing a ball.
With the Cubs leading 1-0 in the bottom of the 3rd, Jordy Mercer led off and chopped a ball to the shortstop side of the mound. It was a play most pitchers would have tried to make out of sheer instinct, a relatively soft hit that they might be able to knock down. Knowing that it’d be foolish to make such an attempt, which could easily turn into a deflected infield hit, Hendricks pulled his right hand back and let Addison Russell clean it up.
It’ll never show up in a box score and it didn’t result in anything resembling a highlight, but that little flinch and the choice to not reach for the ball defined for me what Hendricks’ season has been. He’s the perfect pitcher for this team because he is able to actively leverage the players around him in order to make them and himself better. He is a living, breathing corporate pep talk on synergy. Anyone can see the ERA and assume that Hendricks has been really good, but only those who have really watched him can truly get why he’s been so.
The Cy Young winner is anyone’s guess at this point, though for my money it’s really down to only two. I’ve been waffling a little between Hendricks and Jon Lester, going so far as to side more with the latter in my most recent piece. Then I watched Hendricks and saw that no-frills, no-thrills approach that I’m so familiar with from my upbringing and I got the feels.
You could argue that it should be Lester, or even another pitcher from a different team (though the demographic of my readers probably eliminates much of that), and I wouldn’t argue with you. There’s merit all around and it’s a really great topic to mull over, which is why I keep writing about it. For what it’s worth, I put Hendricks in the top spot of my IBWAA ballot, with Lester just below him. That was before their most recent starts, but my choices remain set.
It’s just been incredible to watch these two pitchers take the mound and dominate routinely each time out. I can’t wait to see what happens when the lights and the pressure get turned up and we get to watch them work in the playoffs.
PS — Thanks, mom.