Javier Baez sparks Chicago Cubs to Game 1 win vs. Washington Nationals

WASHINGTON — Last year Javier Baez of the Chicago Cubs hit a home run in Game 1 of the National League Division Series to beat the San Francisco Giants 1-0 en route to the first World Series title for the Cubs since 1908.

This year, Baez was front and center in a different way, helping the Cubs open the postseason with a win.

Baez reached on an error by third baseman Anthony Rendon in the sixth inning and scored on Kris Bryant‘s two-out single off Stephen Strasburg as Chicago began defense of its championship with a 3-0 victory over the Washington Nationals in Game 1 of the NLDS on Friday.

Baez reached when Rendon made his first error since July 22. He scored the first of two unearned runs off Strasburg when Bryant singled in front of right fielder Bryce Harper to break up the right-hander’s no-hit bid.

Bryant slid into second as Harper threw home and scored on a base hit by Anthony Rizzo.

So did reaching on the error compare to the homer in 2016?

“Not even close,” said the shirtless Baez, smiling near his locker late Friday. “We are excited for the start that we had. It was really big for us. Just ready for tomorrow.”

Rizzo made it 2-0 when he lined another single to right field past Harper’s diving attempt.

“Those are situations I want to be up in,” Rizzo said. “The first two at-bats he made me look silly. You have to tip your cap to him.”

The Nationals are down 1-0 after losing in the first round of the playoffs in three previous showings. Washington was held to two hits against starter Kyle Hendricks (1-0) and relievers Carl Edwards, Jr. and closer Wade Davis.

“I mean we only got two hits and we didn’t hit the ball hard off of him,” Washington manager Dusty Baker said of Hendricks, who gave up just two hits in seven innings. “He threw a good game tonight.

“Strasburg threw a great game. Anthony (Rendon), we’ve never seen him do that, and it led to a two-out hit, and they got three two-strike, two-out hits, and that was the ballgame.”

To make matters worse the Nationals suspended assistant hitting coach Jacque Jones for legal issues just before the game.

“Yeah, that was kind of a downer,” Baker said. “He’s a big part of the team. I don’t know if that had anything to do with it, but it was a bit of a downer, and we hope that things subside and work themselves out.”

Hendricks got the win as he recorded six strikeouts and three walks while tossing 106 pitches. Edwards, Jr. pitched a perfect eighth with two strikeouts, and Davis pitched a perfect ninth for his fifth postseason save.

Strasburg struck out 10 allowed the two unearned runs with one walk. Ryan Madson gave up an RBI double in the eighth by Rizzo to make it 3-0 as he knocked in Jon Jay, who led off with a pinch-hit double.

Strasburg was making his second postseason start and first since 2014. He was shut down in 2012 after Tommy John surgery and was injured last year.

Hendricks started Game 7 of the World Series last year as the Cubs beat the Cleveland Indians.

“Luckily we caught a break there,” Hendricks said of the error by Rendon.

Hendricks also knew he had to be at his best to beat Strasburg.

“You are aware of (him). Every pitch you have to have your focus,” Hendricks said.

Do you need some luck to win?

“Of course you do,” Maddon said. “You have to capitalize on mistakes if they are forthcoming, especially a game like that.”

NOTES: All 16 position players in the starting lineups had at least 10 homers this year. … The Cubs and the Nationals met for the first time in the postseason. … Washington LHP Gio Gonzalez (15-9, 2.96 ERA) will face Cubs LHP Jon Lester (13-8, 4.33 ERA) on Saturday in Game 2. Gonzalez does not have a decision in four postseason starts in which he averaged less than five innings per start. … Nationals RHP Max Scherzer (hamstring) is slated to start Game 3 Monday in Chicago. He was 16-6 with a 2.51 ERA in 31 starts this season. … Cubs 3B Kris Bryant and Nationals RF Bryce Harper are both Las Vegas natives and good friends. They taped a segment Thursday that was shown on the scoreboard before the game about how to donate to victims of the Las Vegas shooting.

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