WASHINGTON (AP) — Lance Lynn needed only a few words to describe a 13-pitch at-bat.
“Three-two heater. He beat me.”
There were more questions for the St. Louis Cardinals reliever, of course, but the answers were more or less the same. He went mano-a-mano with Jayson Werth in the bottom of the ninth inning of a playoff game, losing the battle when the Washington leadoff hitter put the baker’s dozen offering off the back wall of the visitor’s dugout beyond left field.
“Everyone in the stadium knew what I was throwing there,” Lynn said. “Tip your cap to him. The guy can play, and he beat me.”
The Nationals’ 2-1 win Thursday in Game 4 kept the Cardinals from clinching the NL division series, and now there will be a decisive Game 5 in Washington on Friday. It’ll be hard to top this one — with Werth going strike, strike, ball, ball, foul, foul, foul, foul, foul, foul, ball and foul before launching the hit that had him circling the bases, tossing his helmet high and leaping into a pile of teammates at home plate.
“He battled that whole at-bat, and I was making good pitches, making my pitches, and you know, he won,” Lynn said. “It was just a matter of time. I was challenging him, and he was up for it.”
It’s the kind of the playoff moment all at Nationals Park will remember for a long time. The tension was building with each of the 13 pitches, the sellout crowd ready to explode.
“I guess for the pitcher and the hitter, the pressure on them have to be unbelievable,” Cardinals star Carlos Beltran said. “Because Werth is battling, and our pitcher’s trying to get him out. He ended up winning that battle right there, but we have one more day.”
The Cardinals wasted a stellar effort by Kyle Lohse, who allowed just two hits over seven innings with five strikeouts and a walk, his only miscue coming on Adam LaRoche’s dead-center homer in the second.
Mitchell Boggs handled the eighth, and rookie manager Mike Matheny opted to go with Lynn — a starter relegated to the bullpen for this series — rather than closer Jason Motte with the score tied in the ninth.
“If we were at home, it would have been a very easy decision to bring in Motte,” Matheny said. “We are looking at a team that had every save of our season by Jason Motte, and we take a lead there at any point (in extra innings), you’re asking one of our guys, especially one of our young guys, who have never been in that situation to come in and close out a game, and that’s a lot to ask.
“Had a lot of confidence in Lance. He came in throwing the ball well. Werth just put together a very good at-bat.”
The Cardinals had scored a combined 20 runs in Games 2 and 3, but they managed only one unearned tally against Nationals starter Ross Detwiler. Pete Kozma circled the bases in the second inning by way of a walk, a sacrifice bunt, a booted grounder by shortstop Ian Desmond and a sacrifice fly.
Detwiler allowed three hits over six innings — the type of performance Washington needed after Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Edwin Jackson were far from their best in Games 1-3.
It got worse for the Cardinals against the Nationals’ relievers. Zimmerman, the Game 2 loser, struck out the side in the seventh in his first career relief appearance, and Tyler Clippard also notched three Ks in the eighth. Drew Storen got two more strikeouts in the ninth before Desmond ended the inning with a nice, stumble-to-the-ground catch of a deep popup by pinch hitter Matt Carpenter.
Although St. Louis is a wild-card team facing the club with the best record in baseball in the regular season, the intangibles should belong to the visitors Friday. While nearly to a man — Werth being an exception — the young Nationals are new to this sort of thing, the Cardinals have quite the postseason pedigree: Over the past two years, St. Louis is 5-0 in games where it faces elimination, including must-have victories in Games 6 and 7 of the 2011 World Series against the Texas Rangers.
“We’ve got a lot of veterans in this clubhouse that have been in big spots before and have lost games and know how to bounce back,” second baseman Daniel Descalso said. “We’ve done a good job of that lately, and we’re going to try to do it again tomorrow.”
On the mound will be Adam Wainwright, a 14-game winner who was a spectator during last year’s title run while recovering from elbow reconstruction surgery.
“Of course I wish we would have won tonight, but you know what? This is every pitcher’s dream, I would say,” said Wainwright, who pitched well in Game 1 of this series but didn’t get the decision. “Every competitor’s dream is to go in huge moments like that, so I look forward to the challenge.”
NOTES: In Game 3 on Wednesday, Cardinals RHP Chris Carpenter became only the second starting pitcher in baseball history to win a postseason game after not having any wins during the regular season, according to STATS LLC. The other? Virgil Trucks, who won Game 2 of the 1945 World Series for the Tigers against the Cubs. STATS said 14 relievers have done it. Carpenter missed most of the season, making his debut on Sept. 21 after surgery to cure numbness on his right side. He made only three starts in the regular season, going 0-2. … Home umpire Jim Joyce, who missed a call at first base in Game 3, was booed during Thursday’s pregame introductions.