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updated: 10/7/2017 8:01 AM

Rozner: Cubs, Hendricks firmly in control

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  • Not even Joe Maddon could keep Kyle Hendricks from being the star of Game 1 Friday night in Washington.

    Not even Joe Maddon could keep Kyle Hendricks from being the star of Game 1 Friday night in Washington.
    Associated Press


There's been a lot of talk about pressure this week, with all of it being on the Nationals.

Real or imagined, there's no disputing where the heat is now.

It's squarely on Washington after the Cubs stole Game 1 of the NLDS in D.C. Friday night.

No, the Nats didn't have injured ace Max Scherzer on the hill, but they did have their other ace, Stephen Strasburg, who was about as good as it gets Friday.

But Washington has yet to win a first-round series and Game 1 was a reminder of why.

The details.

In a spectacular duel with Kyle Hendricks, Strasburg carried a no-hitter into the sixth and was absolutely dominant when Javy Baez led off with a harmless bouncer toward third that appeared to be foul.

It was called fair and third baseman Anthony Rendon botched the exchange, dropped the ball and Baez was safe at first.

After the error, Hendricks moved him to second with a bunt and with two outs Strasburg got ahead 0-2 on Kris Bryant, whose first two plate appearances resulted in two strikeouts.

That's when Strasburg finally made a mistake.

His fastball low and outside got too much of the plate and Bryant hammered it to right-center for the first Cubs hit and a 1-0 lead.

Compounding the mental and physical mistakes, right fielder Bryce Harper inexplicably threw home and Bryant wisely took second. On an 0-1 pitch, Anthony Rizzo choked up and pulled one to right that Harper barely missed with a diving attempt and Bryant was home for a 2-0 lead.

Does a fully healthy Harper make that catch? Maybe. But Bryant should have never been on second.

Actually, the entire inning should have never occurred, but the Nats have lost three times in the first round in the last five years, partially because of odd circumstances and bad luck, but frequently because of mental mistakes and the inability to field a fully healthy roster.

On the other side was a very relaxed Cubs team with nothing to prove, with no history to defeat and no ridiculous narratives to overcome.

And, of course, there was Hendricks.

The Cubs' best pitcher the last couple of months, and the man who was pulled after only 63 pitches in Game 7 of the World Series last November, Hendricks made the Nationals look silly.

Once the Cubs got the lead, that became the most fascinating part of Game 1, whether manager Joe Maddon would do the right thing and allow Hendricks to continue with a gem.

He baffled his opponents all night with a circle change that had the Nats talking to themselves, but he entered the bottom of the sixth at only 76 pitches and needed 16 to complete the sixth and preserve the 2-0 advantage.

Maddon wanted to hit for him in the top of the seventh -- he had Jon Jay ready to pinch-hit -- but Strasburg got Baez for his 10th strikeout to end the inning and Maddon was forced to let Hendricks go back out for the bottom of the inning at 92 pitches.

He worked around a Bryant error and finished his magnificent night with 7 scoreless on 2 hits, 3 walks, 6 strikeouts and 106 pitches.

Maddon couldn't deny Hendricks the stage Friday night and he was the star of Game 1, just as he should have been the star of Game 7 some 11 months ago.

It was vintage Greg Maddux in the way that Hendricks would not give in to the Washington hitters even when behind in the count, and in the way that he was overshadowed -- tossing in the 80s -- by the flame-throwing Strasburg during the game.

Until the Cubs got the lead.

Then it became clear who had taken over this game and Hendricks did not allow a hit in his final 5 innings of work.

While Maddon didn't get a chance to make a mess of this postseason game, Washington manager Dusty Baker reminded Cubs fans of all they've tried to forget, when he pitched to Rizzo with a runner on third, two outs and first base open in the eighth.

On the eighth pitch from Ryan Madson, Rizzo drove in the third run of the game.

You gotta laugh, right?

Well, the Cubs are the ones laughing now, firmly in control of a series in which they had every right to be the underdog.

Once again, Kyle Hendricks has taken a torch to those odds.

• Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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