By Bruce Levine–
WASHINGTON D.C. (CBS) — A man who looks more like the owner of a baseball team than a star pitcher will be the bridge that either leads the Cubs to a third consecutive National League Championship Series or the offseason.
Right-hander Kyle Hendricks will take the ball for the Cubs when they play the Nationals in a win-or-go-home Game 5 of the National League Division Series in Washington on Thursday night. Time and again in the past two seasons, Hendricks has stepped up big for Chicago in big moments. So it seems fitting now that he gets the ball in the deciding game, six days after he led the Cubs to a 3-0 win in Game 1 with seven shutout innings.
The Cubs are averaging just 2.0 runs in the first four games of the series and are hitting just .159. They believe Hendricks will give them every opportunity to win, but the offense knows it must step up.
“He pitched a great Game 1,” Ben Zobrist said. “We are going to need him to stop them again. Hopefully, we will get the bats going a little more.”
The 27-year-old Hendricks has a career 1.98 ERA in eight postseason starts. He has a calm, collected demeanor, and some teammates call him “Mr. Ricketts” because they think he looks like a young Tom Ricketts.
Hendricks has certainly made the team owner proud. In addition to his gem in Game 1, he was brilliant in the clinching Game 6 of the National League Championship Series against the Dodgers last season en route to a championship. He also threw 4 2/3 innings in Game 7 of the World Series, allowing two runs, one earned, before manager Joe Maddon gave him an early hook.
Hendricks is embracing another leading role on the big stage.
“You prepare for this mindset no matter when you are pitching,” Hendricks said. “You win with pitching and defense. If your starter can get you six or seven innings into a game, that takes a lot off of your bullpen.”
Hendricks was 7-5 with a 3.03 ERA and 1.19 WHIP this season. He was really strong in the second half after returning from a finger injury, with a 2.19 ERA in 13 starts after the All-Star break.
Now, Hendricks will try to perform another magic act in the series finale with everything on the line.
“Now having had experience in those games you talked about means a lot,” Hendricks said. “You know having been in those situations what the atmosphere is going to be like. You know from those experiences what the crowd will be like. All of those external factors, you have dealt with. If you can keep those things under control, you know the pitching part. You know what to do when you get out on the mound. At the end of the day, it will be all about making good pitches. That is what I have to do in Game 5 — make good pitches.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.