MESA, Ariz. -- You might have missed it.
After all, it was a Saturday spring game in early March -- not exactly Game 7 of the World Series. But this past weekend’s 9-3 win by the Chicago Cubs over the Los Angeles Dodgers had a distinct 2016 feel to it -- and it wasn’t just because the Cubs beat the team they defeated months earlier to advance to the World Series.
This game was a reminder of the massive amount of talent the Cubs possess. The following is a mini oral history of a spring victory, perhaps the first of its kind for a Cactus League game.
A year ago at this time, righty Kyle Hendricks admittedly was flying under the radar while he fought off competition for the fifth spot in the Cubs' rotation. He went on to lead the majors with a 2.13 ERA and picked up where he left off on Saturday.
Addison Russell: “Hendricks did his thing. What can I say? Lot of movement in the zone. That’s just Hendricks right there.”
Hendricks pitched two innings in the amount of time it takes to get a hot dog at the concession stand. He threw 16 pitches, one of which resulted in a double play after he gave up his lone hit. It was vintage Hendricks, even if he wasn’t completely perfect in his first outing since Game 7.
Catcher Miguel Montero: “First couple batters, maybe [his] adrenaline was pumping. It looked like he was a little out of sync. His arm slot was off, but he got it back right away. It was Kyle being Kyle.”
Hendricks was so efficient that he threw about 40 more pitches in the bullpen after his outing was over. In all, he induced three lazy ground balls and a popup and struck out a batter. He would be the Opening Day starter on many teams in baseball, but on the Cubs, he’s behind Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta.
Joe Maddon: “He looked great. Command was so good, 86-87 mph with awkward swings. That’s just who he is.”
Matt Szczur: “It’s always fun playing behind him because it’s quick. Either a strikeout or he gives them something to hit. No walks. It’s fast pace.”
Russell: “It’s not so much his work pace -- it’s just his knack of throwing in the zone and getting people to chase. You’re out in front of the changeup, and then you’re out in front of the fastball, then next thing you know, you’re behind the fastball. He was great.”
Hendricks: “I’m always trying to raise the bar and get better. ... This time last year, not as much hype for me. Things have changed a little, but all for the good.”
Kris Bryant was more concerned about getting his new wife a gift for her birthday on Saturday than coming up with a big hit in a spring game, but he managed to do both, starting with a grand slam in the fourth inning.
Russell: “That’s his bread and butter right there. Power arm vs. power bat. KB doesn’t back down from that.”
Bryant hit a fastball just over the fence in left field after Jason Heyward walked to keep the line moving. It was Bryant's first home run this spring.
Maddon: “We thought from the sidelines a fan may have reached over.”
Montero: “C’mon, man. That’s common. That’s KB. He’s swung the bat like that since I’ve known him.”
Bryant is 2-for-12 with a walk so far after leading all spring hitters in home runs back in 2015, when he burst onto the scene to win Rookie of the Year.
Russell: “KB coming alive in a huge spot. It felt great [Saturday]. Everything came together.”
Szczur: “Now that’s the kind of stuff you expect from him. Everyone comes around, and we all know KB would.”
Some Cubs didn’t think about it when the ball went up in the air, but Maddon did. And so did Russell. And Kyle Schwarber realized, after the fact, that the route he took to a ball hit to left center in the fourth inning was very similar to the one that led to his collision with former Cub Dexter Fowler. That led to knee surgery and his missing nearly an entire season. This time, there was no collision, and Schwarber made a fine running catch.
Russell: “We talked about it last [Saturday] night. He got a good read on the ball, and he made sure he called it. I could hear him. It was loud. I’m pretty sure [center fielder] Jon Jay could hear him. It’s good to see that. He’s comfortable enough to get that and let Jay know to back off.”
Maddon: “It was reminiscent [of the collision route]. ... He’s running well. He seems to be growing accustomed to that. From the side, he looks like an average runner, but he’s a solid baseball player runner.”
Schwarber has shown no issues with his knee injury or of wearing a brace.
Szczur: “When I saw it go up, I expected him to make the play. Just a routine one for him. We expect him to make it. I think he’s running great.”
Montero: “I thought he had it. I would have been surprised if the ball dropped there. He seems normal.”
Calling for the ball drills from early spring training paid off, as Russell reiterated hearing Schwarber make it clear that he would track it down. The play did give those watching a moment of pause.
Russell: “I was talking to him later, and it was like a mirror play of his injury. It worked out pretty good.”