After watching Kyle Hendricks weave his way out of three consecutive jams, Chicago Cubs manager David Ross maintained his faith in the usually dependable starter.
But like so many developments in this unusual season, nothing is automatic.
That proved true at a critical time for the Cubs, who face elimination after Corey Dickerson’s three-run home run off Hendricks fueled a five-run seventh-inning rally by the spunky Miami Marlins in a 5-1 victory in Game 1 of the best-of-three National League wild-card series Wednesday at Wrigley Field.
Dickerson’s homer to left-center came on Hendricks’ 106th pitch — matching a season high he set Sept. 12 in Milwaukee. Only this time, the stakes were greater and the warning signs blatant as Hendricks worked out of jams in each of his previous three innings.
Hendricks, however, had no margin for error. The Cubs were optimistic that their 25-run production in last weekend’s three-game series against the White Sox — much of it occurring against young power pitchers Dylan Cease and Dane Dunning — would provide a suitable template for facing the Marlins’ Sandy Alcantara.
That never materialized. Alcantara, who was limited to seven starts in the regular season because of a positive COVID-19 test, held the Cubs to three hits in 6 1/4 u2154 innings, missing or jamming their bats with a fastball that topped out at 98 mph.
The Cubs advanced only two runners past first base against Alcantara — who limited right-handed hitters to a .190 batting average during the regular season — until switch hitter Ian Happ hit an opposite-field home run to left with two out in the fifth. That lead held up until the seventh.
Happ, who rebounded this year after spending most of the 2019 season regaining his plate discipline, had two of the Cubs' three hits.
The lack of offensive production was a continuation of the Cubs’ persistent struggles at the plate during the season, despite winning their third NL Central title in five seasons.
Hendricks has walked two or fewer in his last 41 regular-season starts dating to April 7, 2019, but he walked three through the first six innings Wednesday. Still, he seemed to be in control after retiring Jon Berti on a soft grounder to the mound for the first out of the seventh.
But the landscape changed quickly after Miguel Rojas and Chad Wallach hit back-to-back singles to set up Dickerson’s homer. Jesus Aguilar followed two batters later with a two-run, opposite-field home run to right off Jeremy Jeffress, who was available when Dickerson hit his home run.
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