CHICAGO -- Ben Zobrist helped the Cubs win Game 1 of their showdown with the Nationals, hitting a two-run single in the fourth inning and a two-run homer in the eighth in a 5-2 victory on Thursday night in a battle between first-place teams.
"The Nationals are a great team and they'll be good for the rest of the season," Zobrist said. "We played good ball tonight, and they got a taste of it. But we've got three more games against them."
Right-hander Kyle Hendricks, pitching on 10 days' rest, held Washington to two hits over six scoreless frames for the win. The Cubs improved to 21-6, their best start through 27 games since the 1907 team went 23-4.
Nats starter Joe Ross took the loss, giving up two runs over 6 2/3 innings. He'd given up two runs over 22 2/3 innings in his four previous starts combined. Jayson Werth launched a two-run homer -- his sixth of the season -- off Travis Wood in the ninth to break up the shutout. Closer Hector Rondon came on and got Wilson Ramos to line out to end the game.
"We didn't do quite a few things well tonight," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "It's probably the worst overall game we've played in a while, but we were still in the ballgame."
In the showdown between Las Vegas buddies Kris Bryant and Bryce Harper, the Cubs' right fielder went 1-for-4 with a double, extending his hitting streak to a season-high 11 games, while Harper hit a single, drew three walks and was picked off at first.
Thursday was the first time four first-place teams played in the same city on the same day. Besides the Cubs-Nats game at Wrigley Field, the White Sox entertained the Red Sox eight miles away at U.S. Cellular Field.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Hide and seek: The ivy at Wrigley Field isn't quite green, but it's thick enough to hide a baseball. Tommy La Stella singled to open the Chicago fourth and Bryant then lofted a ball to center that sank into the ivy covering the outfield wall. Nationals center fielder Michael Taylor couldn't find it, and signaled by holding up both of his arms. Bryant was awarded a ground-rule double, and after Anthony Rizzo was intentionally walked, Bryant and La Stella scored on Zobrist's single.
"I couldn't tell if [Taylor] pushed it into the ivy," Maddon said. "Nevertheless, apparently it's OK to push the ball in the ivy. Once it's in there, you can't reach in and grab it. I told the umpires -- I didn't say 'my bad' because I don't like that phrase. I said, 'I don't know what I'm talking about,' and I left."
Another strong outing: In what Baker called one of the worst games of the season for his club, one bright spot for the Nats was another strong start from Ross. He fed the Cubs a heavy dosage of sliders and fastballs en route to nine strikeouts, but the offense couldn't pick him up. Ross now owns a 1.23 ERA, third in the National League behind Jake Arrieta and Gio Gonzalez.
"He works the strike zone," Baker said. "Good sinker, good slider, this guy's going to be good for a long time."
Escape artist: Cubs reliever Pedro Strop survived a scary eighth. The right-hander hit Danny Espinosa and then walked pinch-hitter Clint Robinson. Strop struck out Taylor, and escaped when he got Anthony Rendon to ground into an inning ending 6-4-3 double play to leave Harper on deck. More >
"We pitched out of some jams," Maddon said.
Taylor said he had a pitch to hit, but fouled it straight back before striking out. Although Taylor has struggled at the plate, Baker said he did not consider having Taylor bunt.
"It's easy to say now, but do you play for the tie on the road or do you play for the win?" Baker said. "I went for the win."
"We celebrate well together, we battle well together. It's great on May 5 to get that feeling already. Sometimes you don't get that feeling of a good team until later in the season. I think our identity is pretty good. We're going to have to weather some storms -- we know that -- but right now we're playing great baseball and we're doing well." -- Zobrist
"Yeah, you're always seeing how you stack up against everybody. They're obviously a good team and they're playing good. I think between the two teams right now, I'm not sure where everybody else is, but I'm pretty sure we're the two top teams in the NL as of right now. A lot can change as the season goes on. Series in early May aren't as big a series as in September." -- Werth, on this series
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
This was Hendricks' 50th career start, and the Cubs are 33-17 in those games. The last time the Cubs won at least 33 of a pitcher's first 50 starts with the team was 1945-47 when they went 35-15 for Hank Borowy's first 50 outings. With Hendricks' outing, Chicago starting pitchers now boast a 2.12 ERA (41 earned runs over 174 1/3 innings).
"I don't look at the actual numbers, but I know what guys are doing," Hendricks said of the Cubs pitchers. "We just keep pushing each other. It's every next guy -- they've got to pass the baton and keep it going. No losing streaks. It's just each guy pushing each other."
Dexter Fowler was ejected in the Cubs' third inning after arguing a called third strike with home-plate umpire Vic Carapazza. Jason Heyward, who had not started since Sunday because of a sore right wrist, took over in center field. More >
Rizzo was called out at third trying to advance from first on Zobrist's single to right in the fourth. The Cubs challenged, and after a review, the call was ruled as stands.
In the bottom of the eighth, the Nationals challenged whether La Stella was safe at first after a botched rundown, and the call was ruled as stands.
Nationals: Right-hander Max Scherzer (3-1, 3.55 ERA) will get the ball for the rematch in this four-game set against the Cubs on Friday at 2:20 p.m. ET. Scherzer is 1-0 with a 1.42 ERA in three career starts at Wrigley Field. The Nats are also expected to activate Ben Revere, who has missed a month with a strained right oblique, from the disabled list prior to the game.
Cubs: Right-hander John Lackey (3-1, 4.32) will make his sixth start of the season in the second game of this series on Friday at 1:20 p.m. CT. He's coming off an outing against the Braves in which he threw eight shutout innings, giving up three hits. The Cubs hope to have Heyward back in the starting lineup. He had not started four straight games because of a sore right wrist.
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