By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The old saying in baseball is “You cannot defend a walk.”
On Sunday, Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks proved it’s even harder to defend two bases on balls, especially when they are back-to-back. Those fourth-inning free passes to Dexter Fowler and Matt Carpenter set up a three-run home run by Stephen Piscotty. This was the story in Hendricks’ shortest start since Sept. 17, 2015 against Pittsburgh, a span of 43 starts.
But Hendricks would be bailed out, as a pinch-hit RBI single by Jon Jay put the Cubs in line for a weekend sweep of the Cardinals in the seventh inning. The bullpen finished the job, earning a 7-6 victory Sunday night at Wrigley Field.
Luckily for Hendricks, he had a few teammates backing him up. Ian Happ had his best day as a big leaguer, hitting a solo home run in the third inning and a three-run blast in the Cubs’ five-run fourth inning. Both homers were no-doubters off of Cardinals right-hander Michael Wacha.
The five-run outburst helped negate the St Louis four-run top of the fourth. Happ took his first curtain call after the second home run.
“These fans are awesome,” Happ said. “The energy in the stadium is so great.”
For the second straight start, the home run ball haunted Hendricks. He surrendered a grand slam in San Diego last week. That homer proved to be the game turning blow in a 5-2 Padres victory.
On Sunday, it was the homer for Piscotty that put Hendricks and the Cubs in an early hole.
“Even earlier when I got out of trouble, (fastball command) wasn’t there,” Hendricks said. “I got hit hard. They made some great defensive plays out there behind me. I have to establish my glove side command again.”
During his shortest outing of 2017, Hendricks was up in the zone most of his time on the hill. He left for a pinch-hitter Albert Almora in the fourth inning.
Almora delivered a single that scored two runs on an error by Piscotty.
“A great at-bat,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “The pitch was down, he sliced it into the corner. That was obviously the big moment in the game.”
Home runs have been troubling for the Cubs staff in general. John Lackey has given up a team-high 14 long balls. Jake Arrieta is second with 11, followed by Hendricks with nine. He allowed only 15 home runs in 2016.
The walks are also uncommon for Hendricks. He averaged just 1.8 walks per start this season prior to Sunday. Hendricks was even better in 2016, allowing just 1.47 bases on balls per game.
All was good for Hendricks and company after a successful start to a 10-game homestand.
“There has been a little mindset change,” Hendricks said, alluding to a team meeting of sorts in San Diego. “Maybe it is that we have that team confidence back. We just needed to get back to playing our brand of baseball.”
The end game was fitting as former Cubs outfielder Dexter Fowler, who started the series with a lead-off home run Friday, ended the game. Fowler fanned for the final out Sunday as the Cubs wrapped up their third straight win.
This was the Cubs’ first three-game sweep of the Cardinals at Wrigley since April 7-9, 2006.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.