Cubs Shut Out Nationals; Astros Win Again

WASHINGTON (AP) — Relying on precision rather than power, Kyle Hendricks pitched the Chicago Cubs to another winning start in October.

Hendricks outdueled Stephen Strasburg on the mound, and the Cubs opened defense of their first World Series title in 108 years by beating the Washington Nationals 3-0 Friday in Game 1 of their NL Division Series.

Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo produced RBI singles in the sixth inning for the first two hits off an otherwise-dominant Strasburg. Hendricks was even better, giving up only two singles in seven strong innings.

“He’s unbelievable. The confidence — the quiet confidence he brings to the field — it wears on people,” Rizzo said. “Things don’t faze him.”

Rizzo added an RBI double off reliever Ryan Madson in the eighth. Carl Edwards Jr. threw a perfect inning and Wade Davis finished the two-hitter for a save.

Game 2 in the best-of-five series is today, with Jon Lester set to start for the Cubs against fellow left-hander Gio Gonzalez.

Chicago also began last year’s postseason run with a shutout, beating San Francisco 1-0 behind Lester.

Strasburg didn’t allow a hit until there were two outs in the sixth. Javier Baez reached on third baseman Anthony Rendon’s error to start the inning and was sacrificed to second by Hendricks. One out later, Bryant drove in the first run with a single to right-center and went to second when Bryce Harper missed the cutoff man.

The next batter, Rizzo, singled to right in front of a diving Harper to make it 2-0.

With a heavy beard and a lot of sweat on a muggy, 77-degree night, Strasburg dialed up his fastball to 97 mph and mixed in an unhittable changeup. To cheers of “Let’s go, Strasburg!” from many in a sellout crowd of 43,898, he struck out 10 to set a playoff record for the Expos-Nationals franchise.

“Some of the best stuff I’ve ever seen,” Rizzo said.

In only his second postseason appearance — remember the shutdown of 2012 and the arm injury of 2016? — the righty showed precisely the sort of power and poise that made him the No. 1 pick in baseball’s amateur draft. Until the sixth inning, that is. That’s when everything changed in a matter of minutes.

Until then, the Cubs managed only one baserunner, and that was via a walk. But Baez led off with a bouncer that Rendon gloved, then bobbled while trying to transfer it to his throwing hand. It was Rendon’s first error since July 22; he made only seven in 145 regular-season games.

After Hendricks’ bunt moved Baez to second, 2016 NL MVP Bryant lined Strasburg’s 60th pitch, a four-seam fastball, to right-center for the game’s first run. Harper’s throw was high, and Bryant went to second. Two pitches later, on another fastball, Rizzo sent a sinking shot to right, where Harper came up just short of a diving catch, and suddenly it was 2-0.

As pitching coach Mike Maddux came out for a mound visit with Strasburg, Rizzo whooped it up at the bag, high-fiving first base coach Brandon Hyde.

Strasburg wound up allowing just those two unearned runs in seven innings, with three hits and one walk.

“We waited him out and we took advantage of opportunities,” Rizzo said.

Hendricks went about things differently — his best fastball is about 10 mph slower than Strasburg’s — but was every bit as good. The slender righty from Dartmouth, who led the NL in ERA last season, did not give up a hit after the second inning. He walked three batters and struck out six.

In the Washington ninth, Ryan Zimmerman was called out when catcher Willson Contreras’ throw hit the player in the back as he ran to first on a dropped third strike.

While the Cubs are no longer the “Lovable Losers” after last year’s championship, the Nationals were the NL East champions for the fourth time in six seasons but have yet to win a playoff series.

Their undoing in the past has often been poor hitting and bad relief pitching, and it was the former that was most glaring this time.

Yes, Harper — wearing shoes with “Pray for Las Vegas” written on the side following the recent mass shooting in his hometown — did single in the first inning, but was 0 for 3 in his other at-bats as he tries to regain his timing after returning recently from a long injury layoff. Rendon, Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy, Trea Turner and Jayson Werth were a combined 0 for 17 with three walks.

ASTROS 8, RED SOX 2

HOUSTON — Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve and the high-powered Astros led the majors in runs, hits and batting average in the regular season.

Now that it’s playoff time, Houston is still hammering away.

Correa homered, doubled and drove in four runs, Altuve got two more hits and the Astros battered the Boston Red Sox 8-2 Friday to take a commanding 2-0 lead in the AL Division Series.

George Springer also homered to back Dallas Keuchel in Houston’s second straight romp by the exact same score.

“One through nine, everybody can do damage, everybody can go deep,” Correa said. “That’s the good thing about our lineup, there’s no holes in our lineup, and we feel very confident no matter if we went 0 for 4 the day before or if we went 4 for 4.”

The Astros will go for a sweep in the best-of-five matchup Sunday at Fenway Park, a year after Boston was swept in the ALDS by Cleveland. Brad Peacock (13-2) starts for Houston against Doug Fister (5-9).

“We couldn’t really script it any better,” Keuchel said.

A day after Altuve hit three home runs in the playoff opener, he got things going with a two-out single in the first inning off Drew Pomeranz. Correa, who went 0 for 4 on Thursday, made it 2-0 when he launched a towering shot onto the train tracks atop left field.

“For me if he’s not No. 1, he’s No. 2 in the league,” Altuve said of Correa, often referring to him as his little brother. “One of the best players, I’m really happy to have him on my team. Believe it or not I have learned from him.”

Keuchel pitched into the sixth, allowing one run and three hits while striking out seven to improve to 3-0 with a 0.96 ERA in three career postseason starts.

After Jackie Bradley Jr. had an RBI single in the Boston second, the Astros started to break away.

Springer hit his first postseason homer when he sent the second pitch of the third inning into the front row of the seats in right field.

So is Red Sox manager John Farrell surprised that the series has been this lopsided so far?

“They’re very good, they’re deep, and they have got a number of ways to beat you,” he said. “So we fully respect and understood the opponent, and they’re playing like that.”

A double by Alex Bregman set up an RBI single by Altuve later in the third, making it 4-1 and ending Pomeranz’s first career postseason start after two relief appearances. The lefty kept his head down as he trudged toward the dugout after being lifted.

“Any mistake that we’ve made these past two games, they’ve made us pay for them,” Pomeranz said. “It’s playoff baseball, and these guys have come out swinging.”

David Price, the starter-turned-reliever with the $217 million contract, pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings for the Red Sox. Following his exit, Houston tacked on four runs in the sixth.

A two-out intentional walk to Altuve, the major league batting champion this season, led to a two-run double by Correa . The top overall pick in the 2012 draft and crown jewel of Houston’s yearslong rebuilding project raised his hands in delight and motioned for the crowd to get louder as he stopped at second base.

Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts had an error that looked like it was pulled from a blooper reel earlier in the sixth when he caught a fly ball by Bregman then simply lost the ball as he tried to throw it back in. Betts looked confused as the ball dribbled away from him and he was charged with an error, allowing a run to score.

“I’m not even sure how it happened,” Betts said. “I messed up.”

Keuchel, the 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner, known as much for his beard as his devastating sinker, was cheered on by Houston’s other famous bearded superstar as Rockets guard James Harden watched from a front-row seat behind home plate.

Keuchel’s father, Dennis, also was in attendance and multiple television shots showed him looking a mixture of excited and nervous as he gazed at his son’s work.

The left-hander had trouble settling in early and after needing 30 pitches to get through the second inning, it looked like this start might be a short one. But he struck out the last two batters of that inning as the first of 13 straight he retired.

Keuchel exited to a standing ovation after walking Hanley Ramirez with two outs in the sixth inning.

Altuve, who hit .346 this year, kept punishing pitchers. After singling in his first two trips to the plate, giving him five hits in the series, the Red Sox had seen enough and intentionally walked him in the fourth. That drew a loud chorus of boos from the home crowd, which greeted Altuve with a standing ovation in his first at-bat.

Farrell was asked if the fourth inning was too early to intentionally walk Altuve.

“No, he’s been dynamite,” he said. “You pick your poison. He’s an extremely hot, extremely good hitter. Felt like we were going to move on and go to the next guy.”

Many fans held signs saying that Altuve should be this season’s MVP and one behind home plate proclaimed in sparkly multi-colored letters: “Altuve, He’s Pretty Good.”

Boston also gave him a free pass in the sixth inning, but had to pitch to him in the seventh with the bases loaded and two outs. Austin Maddox, who gave up Altuve’s third homer on Thursday, jumped into the air and pumped his fist after striking him out.

It didn’t matter much. Even with the strikeout, his average in the series is .714.