WASHINGTON -- The postseason around Major League Baseball has been defined by offense, with record numbers of homers hit in the first inning and starting pitchers getting knocked out of games early. But a pitchers' duel broke out Friday night between Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs and Stephen Strasburg of the Nationals during Game 1 of the National League Division Series.
Hendricks outdueled Strasburg, and the Cubs captured a 3-0 victory behind the bats of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, leaving the sold-out crowd of 43,898 at Nationals Park stunned. Chicago leads the NLDS presented by T-Mobile, 1-0, with Game 2 on Saturday in Washington.
"Going up against a tough pitcher, tough team in their home park, I don't know if anyone really expected us to win, and we pulled it out," Bryant said. "Winning the first game is always important, but in a five-game [series], it's more important."
Both starters put on a pitching clinic with contrasting styles. Hendricks never threw a pitch faster than 90.5 mph; Strasburg threw a changeup at 90.9 mph. But Hendricks made a living on the corners of the strike zone and kept the Nationals off balance all night. He gave up just two hits in seven scoreless innings with six strikeouts and three walks.
"Both of those pitchers were unbelievable tonight," Chicago manager Joe Maddon said. "Strasburg with that changeup -- now I know he's had it, but I mean, I've not seen a lot of this guy, but that is such a weapon to go with the other things that he does. And then Kyle, like I'm saying, with added velocity. You saw called strikes, taken strikes that the hitters knew were strikes because he was so effective locating velocity, his velocity."
Of course, Hendricks' velocity is nothing like Strasburg's.
"I think probably it was a little adrenaline-based," Hendricks said. "My last five, six starts, it's been creeping up every start. My mechanics have really been clicking so my timing is there, where earlier in the year, my mechanics were off so I wasn't able to let it go."
Strasburg was dominant in his second career postseason start. He did not allow a hit through 5 2/3 innings. He struck out 10, the franchise record for strikeouts in a postseason game. He dialed his fastball into the upper 90s with regularity, his changeup seemed unhittable and his curveball untouchable as he mixed all three pitches interchangeably for strikeouts.
"A week off and you get into playoff baseball watching some of the other games and stuff, you just see that there is a lot of adrenaline going," Strasburg said. "You just kind of want to embrace it, but also at the same time take it down a notch if you have to. I was really just trying to let it fill me."
Strasburg's performance was not enough. The Nationals' powerful offense was held to two hits as Carl Edwards Jr. and closer Wade Davis each delivered a clean inning to complete the shutout. Washington entered the playoffs with aspirations of erasing the disappointments from past postseasons. To do so now, the Nats will have to overcome a series deficit.
"Any time your pitcher puts forth an effort like that, you want to support him, give him some runs," Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "It's tough. It's disappointing for us offensively, but nothing you can do about it now. Wash it, and come out tomorrow."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Taking advantage: The Cubs caught a break to start the sixth and made the Nationals pay with a pair of unearned runs. Anthony Rendon, the Nats' normally sure-handed third baseman, fielded a ground ball from Javier Baez cleanly but dropped it on a transfer, allowing Baez to reach. It was Rendon's first error since July 22.
"I thought I had it, went to go reach for it, it was on the ground," Rendon said. "Your guess is as good as mine."
After a sacrifice bunt moved Baez to second base, Bryant collected the Cubs' first hit against Strasburg to put them on the board. Bryant advanced to second on a throw toward the plate from Bryce Harper in right field, which put him in position to score after an RBI single by Rizzo.
"He was really in a rhythm," Bryant said of Strasburg. "Getting a guy in scoring position, getting him out of his rhythm a little bit, I think it was huge. Also the third time through, you get a sense of what he has, and tonight, he had some really good stuff. I think just seeing more pitches helped us out."
Near miss: Washington had perhaps its best scoring chance against Hendricks in the first inning. Harper collected a one-out single and advanced to second on a groundout. Then, Daniel Murphy turned on the hardest-hit ball against Hendricks, a 108-mph line drive that went straight to Rizzo.
"I really wish he wouldn't have caught it, to be honest with you," Murphy said. "Runs are at a premium. We saw that tonight. I hit that ball on the button. It was too low. I should've hit it higher." More >>
The Nationals did not have many scoring opportunities, but they nearly had a baserunner in the ninth on a dropped third strike after Zimmerman struck out against Davis. The throw from catcher Willson Contreras hit Zimmerman in the back as he ran up the first-base line, but he was called out for being inside the basepath.
"I thought I was really close to the line, but looking at the replay, you're inside the line, you have to be in the lane," Zimmerman said. "When you're coming out of the box, you start in fair territory and get back. I should've made sure I got back more. Getting drilled in the back wasn't great. Insult to injury for tonight."
"Yeah, it does, because Strasburg, he was pitching. He was doing all he could. You know, we just couldn't muster up too much offense tonight. We'll be better tomorrow." -- Nationals manager Dusty Baker, on the sting of losing Strasburg's stellar start
"Maybe the best he's been all year." -- Nationals catcher Matt Wieters, on Strasburg
"He's always under the radar. There's no emotion. He doesn't throw 97 [mph], but he gets the job done. He did it last year in the playoffs and this first game. I can't say enough about Kyle. He had a great game today. Hopefully, we'll see him plenty more times throughout this month." -- Bryant, on Hendricks
WHAT'S NEXT Cubs:Jon Lester will start Game 2 on Saturday. It will be his third start this season vs. the Nationals. He did not win either of the first, giving up four runs over 12 2/3 innings. First pitch will be 4:30 p.m. CT from Nationals Park. More >>
Nationals:Gio Gonzalez takes the mound for Game 2 on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. ET at Nationals Park. This will be his first postseason start at home since 2012 and fifth career playoff start. More >>