It took 18 major league starts, but the Minnesota Twins right-hander finally won his first big league game on Wednesday as the Twins beat the Cleveland Indians 6-4 at Progressive Field.
“Nice to get the young man a win,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of the 23-year-old Hendriks. “… Tonight goes to Liam. It’s been a long time coming for his first win. Fortunately, we got it for him. That’s nice to see.”
Hendriks put together arguably one of his best starts of his young major league career on Wednesday, allowing two runs on a career-low two hits in six innings of work. He walked two batters while also striking out a pair of Indians in Wednesday’s win.
Hendriks’ lone mistake Wednesday came in the bottom of the first inning. With two outs in the inning, Hendriks served up a solo homer to Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who sent a 1-0 pitch to the seats in right-center field for a 1-0 Cleveland lead.
The only other hit Hendriks allowed Wednesday also resulted in a run. After leadoff batter Vinny Rottino walked to start the bottom of the third inning, Rottino stole second base. He then advanced to third on a groundout to shortstop and scored on a one-out single by Jason Kipnis. The base hit by Kipnis made it a 2-2 tie game, but Hendriks was able to work around the one-out hit.
Unlike in his previous 17 starts, Hendriks didn’t have an inning where he let things get away from him. He minimized the damage through six strong innings Wednesday.
“I was able to locate my fastball a lot better than I had been, and that was definitely the difference today,” Hendriks said.
Hendriks was finally given some run support in the fifth inning as the Twins put up three runs against starter Zach McAllister and reliever Chris Seddon. The big play of the inning was Josh Willingham’s two-run home run, his 35th homer of the season. He became the first Twins player to hit 35 homers in a game since the late Harmon Killebrew hit 41 home runs in 1970.
It was a milestone home run for Willingham, but it also helped Hendriks earn a big milestone of his own.
“That first one was hard for him to get,” Willingham said of Hendriks. “I’m glad we could help him as a team to get it tonight. Hopefully there’s a lot more to come.”
Making Hendriks’ first win even more special was the fact that his catcher Wednesday, Chris Herrmann, was making his first career start in the majors. Herrmann spent the 2012 season with Double-A New Britain before getting called up last week. He and Hendriks were teammates in New Britain during the 2011 season.
“It was huge. It was one of those things, he was catching his first big league start so I know he’s going to be excited and I was excited to get out here,” Hendriks said of Herrmann. “… I was on just on page with Chris Herrmann all night. He called a great game.”
While he left with a comfortable lead, Hendriks had to sweat it out in the dugout as he waited to earn his first major league victory. Cleveland scratched across two runs in the bottom of the eighth against the Twins’ bullpen, but Tyler Roberts got Travis Hafner to strike out with a runner on second to end the threat.
With Wednesday’s win, Hendriks improved to 1-7 with a 5.88 ERA in 14 starts the season. A year ago, he went 0-2 with a 6.17 ERA in four starts.
After the game, Hendriks was greeted with a shaving cream pie to the face by a few of his teammates during his postgame interview. After he wiped the shaving cream from his face, Hedriks was able to crack a smile.
Finally, Hendriks can stop worrying about getting his first career win. Now he can focus on earning win No. 2.
“It’s one of the things in baseball. You’re not going to do well some days and you’re going to get a win and there are going to be some days where you do really well and it just doesn’t work out,” Hendriks said. “I’ve always stayed positive and tried to look to the future. Now I can hopefully knock out another couple before the season ends and move into next season doing well.”