By Bruce Levine–
WASHINGTON D.C. (CBS) — Pitching almost always what sets the tone in October playoff baseball, and Game 1 of the National League Division Series between the Cubs and Nationals was no different Friday evening.
The Nationals had a human buzz saw in the form of right-hander Stephen Strasburg mowing down the Cubs lineup from jump street, but Chicago right-hander Kyle Hendricks lived up to his big-game reputation once again as well. Adding to his legend with slower fastballs than Strasburg but even steadier work, Hendricks was masterful in throwing seven shutout innings to lead the Cubs to a 3-o win at Nationals Park.
With Hendricks’ quality work, it was a matter of time before the Cubs’ grinders took over and produced a few runs. Strasburg struck out 10 batters in seven innings, but the Cubs got to him for two unearned runs in the game-changing sixth inning.
“He was the best pitcher I have seen,” Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said.
Showcasing total dominance early, Strasburg struck out three of the first four Cubs he faced and had a no-hitter through five innings on just 52 pitches.
In the sixth, the Cubs plated runs on two-out RBI singles by Kris Bryant and Rizzo after lead-off man Javier Baez reached on an error by Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon. Bryant and Rizzo came up with their big hits after striking out twice apiece.
“We stick with our approaches,” Cubs shortstop Addison Russell said of getting to Strasburg in the sixth inning. “Whenever we see a pitcher three times, with our lineup things can change in a hurry.”
Bryant’s RBI single on an 0-2 pitch up and center cut broke up Strasburg’s no-hitter and gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead at the same time. It was Strasburg’s first mistake. He allowed just three hits.
“You get to the third time around and you see what the pitcher has,” Bryant said. “Even if the guy is no-hitting us, you must take advantage of the mistake. I feel like I did that. Rizz did the same thing in his at-bat.”
Bryant took second base on his single with heads-up thinking and a great slide on a close play, allowing him to score on Rizzo’s sinking liner single to right field.
“The timely hitting is huge in the playoffs,” Rizzo said. “KB with the big hit to break it up got the monkey off our backs. The extra run was big for us.”
The Cubs picked up where they left off in the regular season, where they went 15-4 down the stretch. The battle-tested Cubs will look to grab a 2-0 series lead when left-hander Jon Lester takes the ball against Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez on Saturday afternoon.
“The thing is we really trust each other,” Rizzo said. “That is the big, big thing for us. We just know someone is going to come through for us at some point.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.