This piece, by BP Wrigleyville’s Rian Watt, first appeared at the Baseball Prospectus main site and is exclusively available to BP subscribers. We’ve posted a sneak preview here.
It was 54 degrees on October 3rd in Milwaukee, and the Cubs were bunched around the batting cages, working on their bunting. Manager Joe Maddon, who spent years as a nuts-and-bolts minor-league instructor, and whose mantra this year has been “Do Simple Better” was convinced that his players would need to come up big in a bunt situation come playoff time, and wanted to drive home that message on the penultimate day of the regular season. Maddon’s decision took just a week to pay off. The Cubs did simple better Saturday night in St. Louis, beating the Cardinals 6-3 in their own ballpark and taking the series back to Chicago knotted at one.
After Cardinals’ starter Jaime Garcia made quick work of the Cubs in the top of the first (save a Jorge Soler double; more on him later), Matt Carpenter led off the bottom half of the frame with a two-strike home run to dead center, putting the Cardinals up by a run and engulfing the Chicago dugout in a sea of scarlet exultation. Carpenter’s blast was the first allowed by Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks since September 17th, and broke in an instant the 12-inning scoreless streak he’d carried with him to St. Louis. It did not break Hendricks. At some point between the moment the baseball left Carpenter’s bat and the moment Stephen Piscotty settled into the box, stance slightly open and hands at eye-level, Hendricks reset the moment in his mind and got down to work.
Between Carpenter’s home run leading off the first inning and Kolten Wong’s, which came with two outs in the fifth, Hendricks retired 14 of 15 batters faced. There’s a real simple reason, too: his changeup. It’s a pitch Hendricks moved away from slightly in September, throwing it only 15 percent of the time after sitting in the mid-twenties all season, but it was working tonight.
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