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SportsPulse: From Nationals Park, Trysta Krick and Steve Gardner break down what went wrong for the Nationals in a night Stephen Strasburg pitched well enough to win, and look at how Friday's earlier ALDS games played out. USA TODAY Sports

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WASHINGTON — It was the most soul-crushing loss at Nationals Park in five years Friday night, and in many ways, perhaps the most torturous in their postseason history.

Three pitches is all it took to turn Washington Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg’s powerful no-hit bid to a devastating 3-0 loss to the Chicago Cubs in Game 1 of the National League Division Series.

One pitch is all it took to turn All-Star third baseman Anthony Rendon’s dream season to a nightmare that could haunt him all winter.

And, it was just one evening that turned the Nationals’ vision of their first World Series championship to a hallucination.

This was just one game, as the Nats kept reminding everyone in their somber clubhouse, but it’s also a best-of-five series, and now the Nationals have to knock off the defending World Series champions in three of the next four games to survive.

It’s hardly over, but, man, it sure looks ugly.

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“We just have to keep playing,’’ says Strasburg, who became the first pitcher to strike out 10 batters in just 81 pitches in a postseason game in 19 years, yielding just three hits and two unearned runs in seven innings. “If this was opening day, and we lost our first one, I don’t think we would panic too much. There’s no reason to do it now.

“We just have to stick together.’’

The Nats have been to these playoffs in four of the last six years, and after blowing a 6-0 lead in Game 5 of the NL Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012, they still have yet to win a postseason series.

So naturally, as painful as the questions were in the Nats’ clubhouse, the narrative was whether the Nats feel like this is yet another case of, “Uh-oh, here we go again.’’

“We don’t care about the past,’’ Rendon said. “That was 2016. 2015. 2014. What year is it this year?’’

Yes, but will the outcome be any different?

“That’s why,’’ Nationals All-Star right fielder Bryce Harper says, “we play five.’’

The Nats still have their ace, and likely Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, in Game 3. Gio Gonzalez, who won 15 games with a 2.96 ERA, will pitch Game 2. And Strasburg, who was 6-1 with a 1.86 ERA after the All-Star break, can still come back and pitch Game 4, or at least Game 5.

Still, this is a tough one to overcome, wasting one of the most brilliant postseason pitching performances in Nats’ history.

“He was the best pitcher I’ve [ever] seen probably,’’ Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “He's Stephen Strasburg for a reason, and he’s an ace for a reason.’’

The way Strasburg was pitching, it was as if he was holding a remote control instead of a baseball. He was throwing a filthy mix of 98-mph fastballs, 84-mph curveballs, and 88-mph changeups. He was so dominant that he needed only 52 pitches to get through the fifth inning, generating 11 swings and misses. Why, only four Cubs’ hitters managed to even hit the ball out of the infield through the first five innings.

“First two at-bats,’’ Rizzo says, “made me look silly. The whole lineup looked silly the first couple times through.’’

Then, everything unraveled.

Javier Baez, leading off the sixth inning, hit a routine bouncer to Rendon. He caught it. And dropped it.

“It’s like a car accident,’’ Rendon said. “You don’t hit the car on purpose. So it’s a mistake. It’s part of the game.

“It’s definitely tough because Stras was pitching his tail off.’’

Two batters later, the confrontation of the night occurred: Strasburg vs. Kris Bryant. And Strasburg's first mistake of note — leaving a 96-mph fastball up in the zone — was cashed in, as Bryant banged a single to left, reaching second base on Harper’s throw home. Rizzo followed with an RBI hit of his own. Just like that, it was 2-0.

And the way Hendricks was pitching, it might as well have been 20-0.

“That,’’ Nationals manager Dusty Baker said, “was the ballgame.’’

The Nats didn’t get a hit after the second inning, managing two in all.

They have been here before, of course. They lost the first game of last year’s playoffs to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and after playing four more one-run games, were sent home. They lost the first game in 2014 to the San Francisco Giants, and then an 18-inning game the following day, and never recovered.

This was the year everything was going to be different.

The Nats are telling everyone that’ll listen it still will be.

“We can still do it,’’ Matt Wieters said, “it just makes it more difficult now. But we can do this.’’

In a city immune to broken campaign promises, pardon folks if they wait a little while before they believe it.

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