WASHINGTON -- It was playing out just as the Nationals envisioned through the first five innings of Friday night's Game 1 of the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile. In front of a sold-out crowd of 43,898 at Nationals Park, Stephen Strasburg was dominant through five no-hit innings against
WASHINGTON -- It was playing out just as the Nationals envisioned through the first five innings of Friday night's Game 1 of the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile. In front of a sold-out crowd of 43,898 at Nationals Park, Stephen Strasburg was dominant through five no-hit innings against the Cubs, playing the role Washington always expected for him and living up to the enormous hype surrounding him since the moment he was drafted.
"Maybe the best he's been all year," Nationals catcher Matt Wieters said. "Which is saying a lot because he's been really good all year."
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However, Strasburg's gem unraveled quickly in the sixth inning of the Washington's 3-0 loss, when Chicago took advantage of an error to score two unearned runs. Because of it, the Nationals are trailing in the NLDS, 1-0, with Game 2 on tap Saturday.
The inning began with an error by third baseman Anthony Rendon, who dropped the ball on the transfer after fielding a grounder from Javier Baez cleanly. Rendon is almost certainly the Nationals' best defensive player and one of the most dependable defensive third basemen in baseball. He had not made an 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."
Baez advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt, but Strasburg had a chance to pitch his way out of it. Benjamin Zobrist flied out to center field for the second out and Kristopher Bryant fell behind 0-2 at the plate. Strasburg and Wieters tried to elevate on Bryant, but left the pitch high in the middle of the strike zone. Bryant made them pay, lining a single into right field for the Cubs' first hit of the night, which gave them a 1-0 lead.
"I didn't even need to throw that good of a pitch with two strikes," Strasburg said. "It happens."
Bryant advanced to second after Bryce Harper threw toward the plate on his single and it ended up paying dividends. Anthony Rizzo followed Bryant with a single into right field, just out of the reach of a diving Harper to plate the Cubs' second run.
In an instant the game had changed. What had been a frenzied crowd sat in stunned silence. That inning remained the only blemish against Strasburg on the night as he completed seven innings without allowing an earned run. He struck out 10 batters, setting a Nationals/Expos franchise postseason record, and did it all on 81 pitches.
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"He was the best pitcher I've seen," Rizzo said. "Today, you just tip your hats. First two at-bats, made me look silly, the whole lineup looked silly the first couple times through."
The Nats got to see what Strasburg could do when he was healthy and able to pitch in the postseason for only the second time in his career. Their inability to capitalize on Strasburg's gem will sting for the Nationals as they try to dig themselves out of an early-series deficit.
"Any time your pitcher puts forth an effort like that, you want to support him, give him some runs," 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."
Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamalcollier.