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Kyle Hendricks pitches gem as Cubs beat Cardinals 8-4, move closer to division title

Kyle Hendricks’ clearly has distanced himself from the days when he would be pulled at the first sign of trouble in the middle innings.

As a result, the Cubs don’t have to look over their shoulders in the National League Central because Friday they took another step toward winning their third consecutive division title.

Hendricks preserved the fatigued bullpen with eight innings of two-run ball that cut the Cubs’ magic number to two after an 8-4 victory over the Cardinals before 39,442 wet-but-entertained fans at Wrigley Field. The victory upped the Cubs’ lead in the division to 1½ games over the Brewers pending the outcome of their meeting with the Tigers in Milwaukee.

“He didn’t like when I took him out early (in his career),” said manager Joe Maddon, adding that those discussions were civil. “He has earned everything he has gotten. He’s unique in today’s game, how he pitches.”

Before the game, Maddon looked at the scoreboard and told Hendricks it would be nice to get his 14th victory and 200 innings Friday.

“(But) I told Joe, ‘Don’t worry about that at all,’ ” Hendricks said. “ ‘We have to win this game. That’s No. 1. That will give me something to shoot for next year.’ ”

Giving up two runs on seven hits in eight innings, Hendricks (14-11) fell one inning short of reaching the 200-inning mark for the first time in his career, but his blend of pitching economically in the early innings before shifting away somewhat from his changeup enabled Maddon to use explore late-inning options besides Steve Cishek, Carl Edwards Jr. and Jesse Chavez. All three had pitched in the previous two games but now will be rested and ready Saturday to assist left-hander Cole Hamels.

“This is what you live for,” Hendricks said. “These are the games you want to play in, that have meaning like this.”

Hendricks is peaking at the right time for a Cubs team that has its sights set on a deep run in the playoffs.

Hendricks has pitched at least 7 2/3 innings in three consecutive starts for the first time in his career, the first time a Cubs starter has accomplished this feat since Jake Arrieta had five such outings from Aug. 30-Sept. 22, 2015, en route to the NL Cy Young Award.

Hendricks has allowed two earned runs or fewer in eight consecutive starts, posting a 5-1 record and 1.66 ERA during that stretch.

“I’m not surprised,” Jason Heyward said. “We don’t take it for granted. He expects that out of himself.”

The Cubs provided Hendricks with early support and added four runs in the seventh and eighth innings. A big difference was that the Cubs took advantage each of the Cardinals’ three errors, starting with a grounder second baseman Kolten Wong bobbled that scored the second run in the first.

Kris Bryant, playing for the first time since suffering a left hand bruise, started in left and smacked a curveball off Adam Wainwright for a home run in the fourth that traveled an estimated a 448 feet.

David Bote was charged with an error in the seventh, but he made several spectacular plays in his third consecutive start at third base.

“This team finds a way to pick each other up,” Bryant said. “It’s nice to know I don’t have to be perfect because there are guys who pick us up.

“Our destiny is in our hands. If we (pick each other up), we’re going to be in a good spot.”

Twitter @MDGonzales

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