Kyle Hendricks’ place in Cubs history already was solidified from his role in bringing a World Series title to Chicago in 2016.
His journey to get back on the mound this season made Saturday’s performance particularly special.
Four starts into his comeback from a serious right shoulder injury that sidelined him 10 months, Hendricks took a no-hitter into the eighth inning against the San Francisco Giants, coming four outs away in a 4-0 win Saturday at Oracle Park. It’s the deepest a no-hitter has been taken by a major-league pitcher this year.
Hendricks knew early on he had a no-hitter going.
“I realized that I walked a guy already so I didn’t want to pitch around guys to get it necessarily,” Hendricks said. “I just want to stay on the attack, keep making my pitches and whatever happens happens.
Hendricks called his own game using Pitch Com to help him get in a rhythm with catcher Miguel Amaya. He credited the rookie for his between-innings insight, specifically calling out how Amaya noticed the Giants’ left-handed hitters were crowding the plate and adjusted accordingly.
“I got away with some stuff in the beginning, honestly, and then really kind of hit my stride in about the fourth or fifth,” Hendricks said.
Mitch Haniger ended Hendricks’ shot at the no-hitter by capping an eight-pitch battle with a two-out double off the left-field wall. Hendricks’ 3-2 fastball caught enough of the inside plate for Haniger to turn on it. Off the bat, Hendricks thought the ball was heading five or 10 rows into the stands.
The scouting report had Haniger able to spray the ball both ways to left-center and to hook balls. So left fielder Ian Happ situated himself one or two steps pull side toward the line. He was a few steps short of being able to reach the ball.
“Should’ve dove headfirst into the wall to try to catch it, but he put it in the perfect spot,” Happ said. “I made a really good run out of but it was right in between, you know?”
Hendricks retired 19 consecutive batters between Michael Conforto’s one-out walk in the second and Haniger’s two-out double in the eighth.
The defensive play of the game to that put Hendricks in position to complete a no-hitter came in the third. Center fielder Mike Tauchman laid out onto the warning track to rob Brandon Crawford of an extra-base hit. Hendricks called it one of the best catches he has ever seen “and I loved him for it.”
“A game like that you need plays like that,” Hendricks said.
Crawford’s fly ball traveled 382 feet and had a .670 expected average.
“I didn’t think I had a great shot at it, but that’s why you go hard just in case,” Tauchman said. “He’s been doing it for years, pitching to weak contact and quick outs, keeping guys off balance. It’s like watching a master surgeon or something like that. It’s awesome and it keeps the defense engaged and it’s the kind of guy you want to play behind.”
Late in the game, Tauchman started playing 15 feet shallower in center field for every Giants hitter. He was determined that a bloop wouldn’t end Hendricks’ no-hitter: “Diving for everything, running through the wall … not letting this ball land.”