Kyle Driver (Cubs-Mets; 06.17.21)

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akoiki-passport2 – by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief


NEW YORK — Kyle Hendricks took the mound for the Cubs on Thursday night, and that all but guaranteed the end of the Chicago’s losing streak before the contest began.

Hendricks kept up his All-Star form with six shutout innings while Javier Báez launched a two-run home run in the first inning that accounted for the game’s only runs in Chicago’s 2-0 victory over the New York Mets at Citi Field. The stellar Cubs’ bullpen worked a perfect three innings combined to put an end to Chicago’s three-game skid and salvage one game against New York in the four-game set.

The trust that continues to build in the Cubs in winning a Hendricks’ start in 2021 took off when Hendricks started trusting in himself after a rough start to the season, one that saw him go 2-4 with an ERA of 6.23 after his first seven starts. What has followed that stretch is seven consecutive quality starts — at least six innings pitched with three or fewer runs allowed — and wins by Chicago in each start, including stopping a red-hot Mets team who had won eight of their last 10 games.

“I can trust the action with my pitching. At the beginning of the season, my timing was off,” said Hendricks, who tied the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Julio Urias for the National League lead with his ninth victory tonight. “The ball was coming out of my glove late, and the ball was flat. I’ve just made a whole lot more good pitches. When you know you don’t trust your stuff, it’s hard to commit to a pitch mentally.

“I know for me, once it clicks, then it’s there. At least I knew it was going to come, it was just a matter of time. I had to work on a few things before I got that feeling.”

Hendricks found himself trying to feel his way out of trouble a number of times early in the game, including giving up a lead-off double to Jonathan Villar in the first, a one-out double to Billy McKinney in the second and walking Pete Alonso and Dom Smith to begin the fourth. On each occasion, Hendricks retired every subsequent hitter after allowing those baserunners, including inducing James McCann to ground into a double play after the lead-off walks in the fourth.

Hendricks worked 1-2-3 innings in the fifth and sixth to end his evening.

“He’s the backbone of our rotation. It’s starting to be that win day [when he pitches],” Cubs manager David Ross said. “He goes out, probably not the sharpest you’ve seen him and he doesn’t allow any runs. “Kyle is, for me, one of those guys who’s consistent. He puts up these numbers every single year. When you look at the numbers, he doesn’t wow you with the power statistics, but it’s the art of pitching.”

Mets starter Marcus Stroman, himself on a good run of form on the mound, matched Hendricks pitch-for-pitch by going seven innings while just allowing four hits and striking out eight. Stroman’s costliest mistake came on his fifth pitch of the game, an 0-1 hanging slider to Báez that ended up being deposited into the Citi Field Apple in centerfield for a two-run homer and a lead that Chicago would not relinquish.

“Mechanically, I was a little off in the first,” said Stroman, who tossed his sixth consecutive quality start in the loss for the Mets. “I got to be better. If I go out there and put up a zero in the first, I give the offense some momentum.”

*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Thursday evening’s contest, and after clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are currently 16 pictures in total.

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