CHICAGO — Kyle Hendricks could sense he had his command as soon as he stepped on the mound. He walked off 81 pitches later with possibly his best performance to date.
Hendricks tossed a four-hitter, Anthony Rizzo homered in his third straight game and the Chicago Cubs beat the NL Central-leading St. Louis Cardinals 4-0 on Friday.
The second-place Cubs won their season-high fifth in a row while cutting St. Louis’ division lead to 1½ games. The Cardinals have back-to-back losses after five consecutive victories.
Hendricks (2-4) threw the fewest pitches for the Cubs in a shutout since Jon Lieber’s 78 against Cincinnati on May 24, 2001, and the fewest for a major leaguer in a nine-inning shutout since Boston’s Aaron Cook needed 81 at Seattle on June 29, 2012.
“I just got a little bit lucky today, honestly,” Hendricks said. “I made a lot of good pitches early. ... I got away with a few. But overall, the focus on just making a good pitch was a lot better today.”
Hendricks pitched his third career shutout and fourth complete game, his first since he blanked Miami on Aug. 1, 2016 at Wrigley Field.
“I think what you saw today was an aggressive approach,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He attacked the zone. He made them put the ball in play. There were no walks. There were better counts. And that’s who he is.”
Hendricks struck out three and did not walk a batter, after getting pounded in a loss at Arizona last week.
“That was pitching, the art of pitching, controlling counts, changing speeds, in and out of the zone, had our guys off balance, did a really nice job,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said.
Rizzo made it 3-0 with a three-run drive against Jack Flaherty (3-2) in the third and finished with three hits. Javier Baez added an RBI single in the seventh.
Flaherty allowed three runs and four hits in 5 2/3 innings.
The Cubs have shutouts in back-to-back games for the second time this year. Jon Lester and two relievers combined for a one-hitter in an 11-0 romp at Seattle on Wednesday.
Hendricks followed that with another dominant outing at Wrigley Field. He has a 0.86 ERA in three starts at home, compared to an 8.78 ERA in three road outings.