Hendricks, Cubs swat Nats in Game 1, steal buzz from NLDS favorites
WASHINGTON — Maybe the pressure really is on the Nationals in this series. Maybe Kyle Hendricks really is the best pitcher in baseball right now. Maybe the Cubs really can become the first team to repeat as World Series champions since the Yankees in 2000.
All right, all right, it’s only one game into a new postseason for the Cubs. But this much became clear after their 3-0 victory Friday against a dominant Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals in their National League Division Series opener:
The Nationals are sweating profusely again in a first-round playoff series, and the Cubs just piled up some more ‘‘house money’’ by winning Game 1 on the road. They need only a split of the next four games to advance.
‘‘I think experience makes the difference,’’ catcher Willson Contreras said. ‘‘Last year, we were behind three games to one in the World Series and came back. That kind of experience is going to help us this year to not have pressure on ourselves because we know we can do this again.’’
Even before the series, Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo talked about ‘‘playing with house money’’ because of all the recent World Series winners that succumbed to the year-after hangover and missed the playoffs.
Rizzo drove in one of the Cubs’ two runs in the sixth inning with a two-out single to right, then drove in another run with a two-out double to left in the eighth.
Just like that, the Cubs went from being no-hit by Strasburg for 5‰ innings to stealing home-field advantage in the series.
‘‘Going up against a tough pitcher, a tough team, in their home park, I don’t know if anybody really expected us to win,’’ said Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, whose two-out single just ahead of Rizzo in the sixth broke up the no-hit bid and drove in the first run of the game. ‘‘But we pulled it out. And especially in a five-game format, it’s huge.’’
Veteran Ben Zobrist said before the series that the pressure was on the Nationals because of their 0-for-3 playoff record in the first round since 2012, and third baseman Anthony Rendon’s error on Javy Baez’s grounder to open the sixth didn’t do anything to dispel that notion.
By the time Zobrist flied to center for what should have been the final out of the inning, Baez was on second — and Bryant was seconds away from breaking up the no-hitter.
‘‘Yeah, we still have to win three,’’ Nationals catcher Matt Wieters said. ‘‘Somehow we have to win three. It’s harder now than it would have been had we won this game, but whoever wins three before the other team does will win the series.’’
Give him credit for arithmetic, if nothing else.
‘‘Everybody was ready,’’ Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. ‘‘Hendricks had something to do with it. He was tricking us tonight.’’
Hendricks, the Cubs’ No. 3 starter this season and the man manager Joe Maddon felt compelled to pull from Game 7 of the 2016 World Series with a four-run lead and two outs in the fifth inning, pitched seven commanding innings to silence one of the best lineups in the NL. He didn’t give up a hit after the second.
‘‘Maybe not my best ever, but it was pretty good,’’ said Hendricks, who dropped his ERA in eight career postseason starts to 1.98, including 0.63 in his last five.
‘‘You kind of just expect it,’’ Bryant said of Hendricks. ‘‘But I’m still impressed.’’
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