WASHINGTON — Relying on precision rather than power, Kyle Hendricks pitched the Chicago Cubs to another winning start in October.
Hendricks outdueled Stephen Strasburg on the mound, and the Cubs opened defense of their first World Series title in 108 years by beating the Washington Nationals 3-0 Friday in Game 1 of their NL Division Series.
Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo produced RBI singles in the sixth inning for the first two hits off an otherwise-dominant Strasburg. Hendricks was even better, giving up only two singles in seven strong innings.
“He’s unbelievable. The confidence — the quiet confidence he brings to the field — it wears on people,” Rizzo said. “Things don’t faze him.”
Rizzo added an RBI double off reliever Ryan Madson in the eighth. Carl Edwards Jr. threw a perfect inning and Wade Davis finished the two-hitter for a save.
Game 2 in the best-of-five series is Saturday, with Jon Lester set to start for the Cubs against fellow left-hander Gio Gonzalez.
Chicago also began last year’s postseason run with a shutout, beating San Francisco 1-0 behind Lester.
Strasburg didn’t allow a hit until there were two outs in the sixth. Javier Baez reached on third baseman Anthony Rendon’s error to start the inning and was sacrificed to second by Hendricks. One out later, Bryant drove in the first run with a single to right-center and went to second when Bryce Harper missed the cutoff man.
The next batter, Rizzo, singled to right in front of a diving Harper to make it 2-0.
With a heavy beard and a lot of sweat on a muggy, 77-degree night, Strasburg dialed up his fastball to 97 mph and mixed in an unhittable changeup. To cheers of “Let’s go, Strasburg!” from many in a sellout crowd of 43,898, he struck out 10 to set a playoff record for the Expos-Nationals franchise.
“Some of the best stuff I’ve ever seen,” Rizzo said.
In only his second postseason appearance — remember the shutdown of 2012 and the arm injury of 2016? — the righty showed precisely the sort of power and poise that made him the No. 1 pick in baseball’s amateur draft. Until the sixth inning, that is. That’s when everything changed in a matter of minutes.
Until then, the Cubs managed only one baserunner, and that was via a walk. But Baez led off with a bouncer that Rendon gloved, then bobbled while trying to transfer it to his throwing hand. It was Rendon’s first error since July 22; he made only seven in 145 regular-season games.
After Hendricks’ bunt moved Baez to second, 2016 NL MVP Bryant lined Strasburg’s 60th pitch, a four-seam fastball, to right-center for the game’s first run. Harper’s throw was high, and Bryant went to second. Two pitches later, on another fastball, Rizzo sent a sinking shot to right, where Harper came up just short of a diving catch, and suddenly it was 2-0.
As pitching coach Mike Maddux came out for a mound visit with Strasburg, Rizzo whooped it up at the bag, high-fiving first base coach Brandon Hyde.
Strasburg wound up allowing just those two unearned runs in seven innings, with three hits and one walk.
“We waited him out and we took advantage of opportunities,” Rizzo said.