CHICAGO -- After all the build-up and curiosity over how he would handle the playoff stage for the first time, Jose Quintana refused to play the part of inexperienced postseason pitcher on Monday.
The veteran left-hander thrived in his postseason debut, allowing just one unearned run on two hits and a walk while striking out seven over 5 2/3 innings in the Cubs' 2-1 win over the Nationals at Wrigley Field in Game 3 of the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile.
"You couldn't even tell it was his first start," third baseman Kris Bryant said. "He was totally in control and looked awesome out there."
Lined up against Washington ace Max Scherzer, who carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning, Quintana showed no anxiety in the pivotal, pressure-packed Game 3 and no fear of a Nationals lineup he had never faced.
"Our guy matched [Scherzer], which we needed," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "You had to match that great pitching performance with another one, and we did."
Quintana retired the first five hitters he faced without letting a ball escape the infield. He got some help from his defense, particularly from center fielder Jon Jay and right fielder Jason Heyward, but a mistake by left fielder Kyle Schwarber brought an earlier-than-expected end to his outing.
Quintana had retired six straight hitters, four of them on strikeouts, as he took the mound to face Daniel Murphy with two outs in the sixth inning. Murphy hit a fastball to left field, but Schwarber misplayed the catchable fly ball then booted it around the warning track in left. Murphy raced to third base, and Maddon walked onto the field to remove Quintana.
Maddon was booed by the home crowd as he took the ball from Quintana, but the Cubs decided before the inning began that Quintana would not face the right-handed-hitting Ryan Zimmerman a third time. So Quintana departed to a standing ovation, then Zimmerman smacked an RBI double to right field against reliever Pedro Strop.
"Strop has a much better chance for a punchout as opposed to Quintana," Maddon said. "You don't want the ball to be moved [put in play], and he moved the baseball."
Still, Quintana gave the Cubs what they expected and needed. He became the fifth pitcher in Cubs history to throw at least five innings without allowing an earned run in his first career postseason appearance, a feat most recently accomplished by Jake Arrieta in the 2015 NL Wild Card Game.
"He just proved that he's a gamer," Ben Zobrist said. "He's been looking great lately, and he pitched great again today. Hopefully we can get him out there again."
If he does pitch again this month, he won't have to answer any more questions about handling the postseason pressure. He did that Monday.
"I just tried to do my job," Quintana said. "It was the first time for me in the postseason, a different feeling for sure. Just focusing on throwing the ball well."
Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.