Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg looked unhittable for five innings Friday night. Then the Chicago Cubs came to bat in the sixth inning.
That’s when everything changed.
The Cubs scored twice against the Nationals starter, who had a 0.86 ERA after the All-Star break as well as a streak of 35 consecutive scoreless innings, on their way to a 3-0 win against the Nationals in Game 1 of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park.
The Cubs’ Javier Báez reached on a high chopper that third baseman Anthony Rendon couldn’t handle for an error. Báez moved to second on a bunt by Kyle Hendricks. Báez scored when Kris Bryant singled on a 0-2 pitch from Strasburg. Bryant scored on Anthony Rizzo’s single to right, giving the Cubs a 2-0 lead.
Strasburg held the Cubs hitless through 5 2/3 innings. He set a franchise single-game postseason record with 10 strikeouts, breaking Max Scherzer’s record of seven from last year’s NLDS Game 5 against the Dodgers.
“The first two at-bats, he made me look silly. The whole lineup looked silly the first couple of times through,’’ Rizzo said. “He’s an ace for a reason. His changeup was on. He was locating his fastball. You just have to wait those guys out.’‘
Bryant, the 2016 NL MVP, said that Strasburg usually has four pitches and that he didn’t have his slider working tonight.
“But he didn’t really need to because his other pitches were working so good,’’ Bryant said. “We got on base and got him out of his rhythm. Third time through, we had a sense of what he had.’‘
Bryant knew the “odds were against me,’’ when the count was 0-2, so the idea was “just to be a competitor.’‘
Báez said the key to beating Strasburg is patience.
“He just kept throwing first- and second-pitch strikes and that’s not easy,’’ Báez said. “The game was 0-0. We just kept battling. The game was tight. We knew we had to do every little thing to win.’‘
Cubs manager Joe Maddon said: “We took advantage of a mistake. The third baseman (Rendon) is outstanding. We got lucky there. But, again the two-strike knocks, K.B. (Bryant) and Rizz had a difficult four at-bats combined, but after that, they came up with two pretty big hits.’‘
The Cubs didn’t get anything close to a hit against Strasburg in the first five innings. Kyle Schwarber had a long fly ball to left. Ben Zobrist flew to right. Willson Contreras hit a ball hard behind second base in the fourth inning, but the Nationals’ Daniel Murphy picked it up on a backhand and threw Contreras out at first base.
The Cubs, defending World Series champions, have a 1-0 lead with a chance to go up 2-0 Saturday in the best-of-five series. Chicago’s Jon Lester pitches against Gio Gonzalez in a battle of lefties.
“He (Gonzalez) has had a really good season and he’s very tough on lefties,’’ Maddon said. “He’s extremely tough. With Gio, you have to make him throw the ball over the plate. He’s really good at getting you to chase. If we are chasing, he’s going to have a real good night.’‘