CHICAGO – There are so many reasons why the 2020 opening day for the Cubs will be remembered forever.
For one, it happened on July 24th instead of March or April, and it took place in front of exactly zero fans sitting in the stands at Wrigley Field. The COVID-19 pandemic forced both extraordinary changes to the plan for the baseball season, with this night being one of just 60 in the regular season for all teams.
Luckily Kyle Hendricks made it memorable in a great way on Friday.
The pitcher delievered an opening night performance not seen by the franchise in nearly a half-century in baffling the Brewers en route to a 3-0 victory. Sporting his the best of his stuff, Hendricks went the distance without allowing a run or a walk, scattering three hits while striking out nine batters.
In the process, he became the first Cubs’ opening day starter since Bill Bonham in 1974 to toss a shutout.
“That one’s definitely up there for a lot of different reasons,” said Hendricks of the outing. “We love playing baseball so much, and it’s been a while. Just being back out there with the guys, it was so much fun playing for something.
“You definetely felt the energy in the dugout was way different for us.”
Hendricks needed 103 pitches to finish the gem, and what’s odd is that only one Brewers’ hitter was able to get anything done against him. Orlando Arcia accounted for all three hits against Hendricks, but were scattered enough that Milwaukee never had much of a threat going.
There did come a moment in the ninth when a complete game didn’t happen, as manager David Ross came out to check on Hendricks, whose pitch count had just gone over 100. When he didn’t pull the pitcher, the Cubs’ dugout erupted in cheers.
“They said the only reason I was going out there was to get a cheer,” joked Ross afterward. “So they gave it to me on the way back. There’s no fans to let him stay him. I just wanted to check his pulse and let him know that would be his last hitter.”
Hendricks took care of business, getting Keston Hiura to ground out to end the game and preserve the shutout.
“That was huge,” said Hendricks of Ross leaving him in the game. “It’s not easy for that first one. It was so much fun to be back out there with the guys.”
Doing so from the start to the finish to begin a most unusual baseball season.