By Bruce Levine–
WASHINGTON D.C. (CBS) — How do you top out-dueling the best pitcher in baseball to lead your team to a pennant and its first World Series berth in 71 years?
If you’re Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks, you step up in Game 7 of the World Series to help your team break a 108-year championship drought.
The aura of the 27-year-old Hendricks has a chance to continue to grow when he takes the ball against the Nationals in Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Friday night in Washington D.C. If left-hander Jon Lester hadn’t worn down in the second half or right-hander Jake Arrieta was fully healthy, perhaps Hendricks wouldn’t be in this position in the opener.
But that doesn’t take away from the fact that he’s earned it. Steady as ever and in top form, Hendricks it the best the Cubs have going into the playoffs and has the team’s full confidence.
There’s good reason. Hendricks won the MLB ERA title in 2016, then threw 7 1/3 shutout innings in Game 6 of the NLCS and 4 2/3 innings in Game 7 of the World Series in which he allowed two runs, one earned.
“He is just the perfect guy to pitch Game 1,” third baseman Kris Bryant said. “He never shows any emotion. He is not going to show if he is nervous, mad or happy. That is definitely a special trait that he has. Everybody on the team feeds off of that. When you see your starting pitcher out there like it is just any other game, it definitely makes you feel that way too. I love watching him pitch.”
Hendricks is one of the nicest, most engaging individuals you could ever hope to encounter, and he’s appreciative of his teammates’ support. He’s also followed up a fantastic 2016 with a strong 2017 campaign in which he’s gone 7-5 with a 3.03 ERA.
He had a 2.19 ERA in 13 starts after he came back from a hand injury in late July.
“That means a lot to me,” Hendricks said of the praise he receives from other Cubs. “Like I said before, our focus is always that group of guys in the clubhouse. We are a real tight-knit group. So hearing that he said that about me means a lot. It is a big confidence builder. On the other hand with this staff, any of us could be making the Game 1 start. I am just taking it as an opportunity to go out and have fun. To me, there are nine of us going out there to start the game. So with that in mind, I just focus on my task and what I can do to help my team win the game.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.