CHICAGO — Even its nickname — Friendly Confines — evokes the image that has been burned into the minds of fans for generations. Wrigley Field is a cozy haven for hitters, and if the wind happens to be blowing out, there will be no shortage of home runs.
But these Cubs have spent the season reversing the old world order. In 2015, Wrigley Field was the third-easiest venue in which to homer in all of baseball, according to park factors on ESPN.com. One year later, when the Cubs rolled to 103 victories and the National League pennant, it was ranked as the seventh-toughest ballpark.
Those results only bolstered the case of Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who repeatedly has poked holes in the idea that Wrigley Field is a hitters’ paradise that can never be tamed.
“Apparently the wind may be blowing out [Friday] night, but for the most part this year, it’s not,” Maddon said before the Cubs’ 1-0 loss to the Indians in Game 3. “It’s a really big ballpark, in spite of what the numbers say on the wall. And we have a very good defense.”
Kyle Hendricks, the cerebral Cubs righthander who started Game 3 against the Indians on Friday night, made himself at home at Wrigley Field during what was a breakout season. At home, Hendricks went 9-2 with a 1.32 ERA. That success came because he kept the ball in the park.
Hendricks allowed only four homers in 95 1⁄3 innings at Wrigley Field, proving the power of minimizing the age-old perceptions.
“It’s just words to me,” said Hendricks, who left a scoreless game with the bases loaded and one out in the fifth inning Friday night and watched Justin Grimm induce Francisco Lindor to hit into an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play. “At the end of the day, you hear people say it all the time. But honestly, what does that mean? People are just saying those words, saying fly balls go out. You’re not going to have those thoughts when you’re on the mound, obviously.”
Hendricks doesn’t overwhelm opponents with velocity. Instead, the Dartmouth-educated righty relies on planning and precision. It has been enough to keep power hitters from doing damage.
Said Maddon: “He has elicited weaker contact all year based on the variety of pitches he has.”
Hendricks has leaned on his approach even in the postseason. In four October starts, including Friday night, he has a 1.31 ERA in 20 2⁄3 innings and has surrendered one homer, at Wrigley Field.
“For me, at the end of the day, if you make good pitches, you’re going to get these good hitters out,” Hendricks said. “That’s what my sole focus is on. If I’m making a good pitch, I get a fly ball, it should be an out.”