A special season for the Chicago Cubs almost added an exclamation point Monday night.
Right-hander Kyle Hendricks threw eight no-hit innings against the St. Louis Cardinals, but Jeremy Hazelbaker led off the ninth with a home run to right in a 4-1 loss to the Cubs.
Hendricks (15-7) then exited the game, which was saved by Aroldis Chapman.
Hazelbaker prevented the Cardinals from being no-hit at home for the first time since June 20, 1906, when Mal Eason of the Brooklyn Superbas turned the trick at Robison Field.
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“I was trying to put an end to that (no-hitter), but still trying to get on base, trying to do what I can to just get on base for my team and help my team out,” Hazelbaker said of the at-bat that resulted in his 12th home run of the season on an 0-2 changeup from Hendricks.
“You just want to break it up. That’s kind of what you want to do. At the same time, you don’t go up to the plate thinking, ‘The guy’s got a no-hitter. I want to put an end to it.’ You go up thinking about what your plan is, what your approach is. You think about what you plan on doing that AB with the pitches you want to swing at and what you want to accomplish.”
Hendricks said his heart sank a bit when Hazelbaker connected.
“Yeah, but if you’re going to give it up, at least it’s that way, not a cheap hit or something,” Hendricks said. “I left the ball up and he got it. What are you going to do?”
Hendricks, whose 89- to 90-mph fastball is complemented by a dazzling changeup, a slider and a cutter, has allowed three runs or fewer in 20 consecutive starts.
While the Cardinals (75-68) gained satisfaction in avoiding the no-hitter, they still saw the Cubs (92-51) reduce their magic number for winning the NL Central to three. The series concludes with games at 7:15 p.m. Tuesday and 12:45 p.m. Wednesday.
“It’s always good to score,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “We didn’t care how it happened. We wanted to get something going. Jeremy coming through there is something positive in the right direction.”
The Cardinals remained one-half game behind the New York Mets in the race for the second NL wild-card spot. The Mets lost to the Washington Nationals 8-1.
After Hazelbaker’s homer, Chapman struck out pinch-hitter Tommy Pham and retired Kolten Wong on a fly to center. Stephen Piscotty walked on a 3-2 pitch, but pinch-hitter Jose Martinez lined out to center to end the game.
Hendricks walked two and struck out seven in eight innings. He threw just 96 pitches, 64 for strikes, and at one point retired 18 consecutive hitters.
Hendricks said he “was pretty calm, actually.”
“I was definitely thinking about it from the fifth inning,” he said. “It creeps into your mind. Guys started getting quiet, not talking to me. You like it, I guess. You’re in a good situation. It was a situation I really haven’t been in.”
Hendricks, who leads the major leagues with a 2.03 ERA, was attempting to complete the Cubs’ second no-hitter this season and the third in the last two years. Jake Arrieta has the other two.
“He made not many mistakes in the middle of the plate,” Matheny said. “He was pushing the corners all day long. He’s been doing that most of the season. He doesn’t give a lot.”
Hendricks received a loud ovation when he batted in the top of the ninth. He flied out to right-center with the bases loaded, then returned to the mound to attempt the no-hitter.
Cubs infielders surrounded Hendricks around the mound after Hazelbaker’s home run. Plate umpire Joe West tried to break up the proceedings, and Chicago manager Joe Maddon began arguing with West before being ejected.
The move bought time for Chapman, who had not been warming up, to get enough pitches thrown in the bullpen to be ready to enter the game.
The Cardinals have been no-hit 10 times in franchise history, most recently by Johan Santana of the New York Mets on June 1, 2012, at Citi Field. Previously, Fernando Valenzuela of the Los Angeles Dodgers threw a no-hitter against the Cardinals on June 29, 1990, at Dodger Stadium.
The only baserunner against Hendricks in the first seven innings came in the second when Yadier Molina walked on four pitches. He was wiped out on Jedd Gyorko’s 6-4-3 double play.
Gyorko walked on four pitches with two outs in the eighth, ending a string of 18 in a row set down by Hendricks. Hendricks got the next batter, Jhonny Peralta, on a foulout to second.
The Cubs made three stellar defensive plays behind Hendricks. Shortstop Addison Russell ranged to his right to smother Peralta’s grounder in the sixth, then threw out Peralta at first. Right fielder Jason Heyward went into the stands against the next batter, Hazelbaker, snaring the ball away from fans for the second out of the inning.
Third baseman Kris Bryant went to his left to take a hit away from Piscotty with one out in the second.
St. Louis also made two nice plays. Right fielder Piscotty slid to rob Russell of a hit in the second, and center fielder Grichuk took a double away from Heyward in right-center in the seventh. Heyward, the former Cardinal, doffed his helmet at Grichuk between first and second.
Mike Leake (9-10) took the loss for the Cardinals, allowing four runs (three earned) on six hits in six innings. Leake surrendered home runs to Ben Zobrist in the second and Dexter Fowler in the fifth. Fowler’s two-run homer made it 4-0.
Cubs 4, Cardinals 1
Kyle Hendricks took a no-hitter into the ninth inning Monday before it was broken up on Jeremy Hazelbaker’s leadoff homer.
By the numbers
The Cardinals avoided being no-hit at home for the first time since 1906. ... Hendricks (15-7) lowered his major league-leading ERA to 2.03 as the Cubs cut their magic number for clinching the NL Central championship to three. ... Ben Zobrist and Dexter Fowler homered for Chicago. ... Mike Leake (9-10) was the Cardinals’ losing pitcher. He allowed four runs (three earned) in six innings.
Jaime Garcia (10-12, 4.58 ERA) vs. Jason Hammel (14-8, 3.50 ERA), 7:15 p.m. Tuesday