Kyle Hendricks goes about things completely differently than Stephen Strasburg does on the mound. The kid from Dartmouth relies on a fastball that on a good day reaches 88 mph — about 10 mph slower than Strasburg’s — and a deceptive changeup. Instead of power, he gets by on precision, guile and smarts.
Hendricks outpitched Strasburg in Game 1 of the NL Division Series, giving up only two hits in seven innings to help the Chicago Cubs open defense of their first World Series title in 108 years by beating the Washington Nationals 3-0 on Friday night.
“That’s why we call him Professor,” Chicago second baseman Javier Baez said about Hendricks. “He knows what he’s doing.”
Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo produced RBI singles with two outs in the sixth inning for the first two hits off an otherwise-dominant Strasburg. Rizzo added a run-scoring double in the eighth off Ryan Madson.
Carl Edwards Jr. threw a perfect inning and Wade Davis finished the two-hitter for a save.
Unlike No. 1 overall draft pick Strasburg, Hendricks went in the eighth round. Unlike Strasburg, Hendricks has never been an All-Star. Unlike Strasburg, who already has signed a $175 million, seven-year deal that begins next season, Hendricks earned less than $800,000 in 2017.
But this was Hendricks’ time to shine.
“He was tricking us tonight,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker said, “and seems like those kind of guys give us more trouble than guys who throw hard.”
The slender righty, who led the NL in ERA last season, gave up a single in the first and another in the second — and that was it for the Nationals.
He walked three batters and struck out six.
“He knows the scouting report,” said Jon Lester, who starts Game 2 on Saturday for Chicago against fellow lefty Gio Gonzalez. “He knows where guys’ weaknesses are.”
Harper — wearing shoes with “Pray for Las Vegas” written on the side following the recent mass shooting in his hometown — was 1 for 4 as he tries to regain his timing after returning last week from a 42-game injury absence. Otherwise, Washington’s elite hitters — Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy, Trea Turner and Jayson Werth — were a combined 0 for 17 with three walks.
“Definitely, your confidence builds,” Hendricks said, “when you start seeing those swings.”
The fact that Hendricks approached 90 mph as often as he did was an aberration he and teammates attributed to adrenaline, but one that helped, of course.
He also knew he needed to be really good, because of what Strasburg was doing.
Strasburg didn’t allow a hit until there were two outs in the sixth. Baez reached on Rendon’s error at third base 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 Harper’s throw missed the cutoff man.
Bryant, Rizzo said, managed to “get the monkey off the back in the dugout for all of us.”
Rizzo followed by singling 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 98 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.
Strasburg wound up allowing just those two unearned runs in seven innings, with three hits and one walk.
“You’re aware of it,” Hendricks said about Strasburg. “You know how well he’s throwing on the other side.”
Hendricks threw well, too.
“It was,” Cubs catcher Willson Contreras said, “a masterpiece.”
Less than a half-hour before the game, the Nationals announced that assistant hitting coach Jacque Jones has been suspended with pay pending an internal investigation. The team said the suspension is connected to a legal matter. The 42-year-old Jones retired as a player in 2008 after 10 years with four teams.
“That was kind of a downer before the game,” Baker said, “because he’s a big part of the team.”
Cubs: Lester makes the 20th postseason start of his career, which includes three World Series titles and an NLCS MVP award last year. He is 9-7 with a 2.63 ERA over his postseason career.
Nationals: Gonzalez goes in Game 2 instead of two-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, who is slated for Game 3 at Wrigley Field on Monday. Scherzer has been dealing with a sore right hamstring. It will be Gonzalez’s first playoff start at home since Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS against St. Louis, when he was staked to a 6-0 lead in a game Washington lost 9-7.