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Nationals let Game 1 slip away in 6th inning and Cubs claim 3-0 victory

Bill Shaikin, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Baseball

WASHINGTON -- In Washington, a city that has gone nine years short of a century without postseason success, this will be a play that will live in infamy.

It was a ground ball, hit hard but not impossibly so, hit directly at the man that committed the fewest errors of any everyday third baseman in the major leagues. Anthony Rendon fielded the ball, lifted his glove to transfer the ball to his hand and ... dropped the ball.

"It's like when you have a car accident," Rendon said. "It's not a car purpose. It's a mistake. We're human."

The mistake did not seem immediately ominous. Stephen Strasburg, the pitcher for the Washington Nationals, was throwing a no-hitter. This was the sixth inning. Of the first 15 outs, eight had come by strikeout. He had thrown his fastball as hard as 99 mph.

So what if Rendon had just made his first error in three months? Strasburg retired the next two batters, one on a sacrifice bunt. He should have been out of the inning.

He got strike one, then strike two on Kris Bryant, the defending National League most valuable player. In his previous at-bat, Strasburg struck him out on a change. He went fastball here, a fastball intended to wander high and outside. The pitch did not escape the strike zone, and Bryant poked it into right field, an 0-2 mistake that ended Strasburg's no-hitter and shutout all at once.

"I didn't even know he had a no-no, to tell you the truth," Washington's Bryce Harper said. "Sorry about that. It's pretty cool that he had one."

The Nationals, the team that never has advanced past the division series, instantly went from being 10 outs from celebrating a no-hitter to losing yet again. A raucous crowd went silent, sensing October doom yet again.

Bryant had taken second base on the throw home, Anthony Rizzo, like Bryant, had struck out in each of his first two at-bats against Strasburg. And, like Bryant, he singled in his third at-bat, and the Chicago Cubs had a 2-0 lead.

The Nationals never did score. The defending World Series champion Cubs beat the Nationals, 3-0, in Friday's opener of the best-of-five division series. The home- field advantage shifted to the Cubs, with Jon Lester lined up to start for Chicago here Saturday, but Harper said the untimely inning did not trigger images of another postseason defeat in the Nationals' heads.

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