Big momentum swing costly for Cardinals
The St. Louis Cardinals had the right guys up and were ready to
break open their playoff opener against the Washington
Three pitches later, the course of Game 1 had changed. And soon,
the defending World Series champion Cardinals had let their big
chance slip away in a 3-2 loss Sunday.
The Cardinals led 2-1 in the seventh inning and were poised to
get more with the bases loaded and nobody out. Cleanup hitter Allen
Craig, who led the National League with a .400 average with runners
in scoring position, was up and MVP candidate Yadier Molina was on
But reliever Ryan Mattheus needed just two pitches to get out of
the jam. Craig grounded into a forceout at the plate, then Molina
bounced into an easy double play.
And on the first pitch of the eighth, Cardinals rookie shortstop
Pete Kozma misplayed Michael Morse’s grounder. Ian Desmond followed
that error with a hit and, two outs later, pinch hitter Tyler Moore
slapped a two-strike single to right for a two-run single.
”It’s baseball,” Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday said.
”They got a guy who throws groundballs and he came in and got two
of them. You’ve got two of the best hitters in the league coming
up. It just didn’t work out.”
The Nationals, who had never come close to making the playoffs
since moving from Montreal for the 2005 season, overcame a wild
outing by 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez to start the NL division
Mattheus got the win for his two-pitch, three-out seventh, and
Drew Storen pitched a perfect ninth for the save. Mitchell Boggs,
victimized by Kozma’s error in the eighth, took the loss.
The NL East champion Nationals led the majors with 98 wins this
season, and brought postseason baseball to Washington for the first
time since 1933. The Nats go for a 2-0 series lead Monday when
Jordan Zimmermann opposes Jaime Garcia.
”This team is not hanging our heads,” St. Louis starter Adam
Wainwright said. ”We can come back and win this easily.”
The Cardinals made it to the best-of-five division series by
beating Atlanta in the wild-card matchup Friday. But St. Louis
wasted a 10-strikeout gem by Wainwright, failing to capitalize
enough on Gonzalez’s career high-tying seven walks and frustrating
its towel-waving fans.
A standing room crowd of 47,078, among the largest at 7-year-old
Busch Stadium, bundled up for a game that began in 54-degree chill
and featured kaleidoscope late-afternoon shadows that bedeviled
hitters for several innings.
Wainwright became the first Cardinals pitcher to reach double
digits in strikeouts since Bob Gibson also fanned 10 to beat the
Tigers in Game 4 of the 1968 World Series.
Wainwright was a 14-game winner coming off reconstructive elbow
surgery that sidelined him all of 2011, with 10 of the wins coming
at home. He’s been a postseason ace with a microscopic 0.77 ERA and
32 strikeouts in 23 1-3 innings.
He fanned Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman twice each and
seventh-place hitter Espinosa all three times.
”His breaking ball really bailed him out today and kept them
off-balance and had a lot of swing-and-misses and some chases and
strikeouts with the breaking ball,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny
Gonzalez allowed just one hit in five innings, on David Freese’s
full-count bouncer between third and short to start the fourth. But
he had trouble finding catcher Kurt Suzuki’s glove.
The second inning was Gonzalez’ shakiest when he allowed the
Cardinals to score twice and take the lead without a hit. Gonzalez
walked four of the first five hitters, putting St. Louis in
position to score one run on a wild pitch and a second on Jon Jay’s
bases-loaded sacrifice fly.
Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth robbed Daniel Descalso of a
two-run homer off with a leaping catch to keep it at 2-1 in the
sixth. Descalso had a fielding gem of his own in the seventh,
ranging far to his left to glove Harper’s grounder and then
throwing him out by a few steps.
Both pitchers were aided by the late-afternoon shadows. The
narrow roof above the top of the upper deck, and lattice work
beneath the roof, creates a hodge-podge of sun and shade. At one
point, pitchers were throwing from sunshine into shade, a small
stretch of sun then shade again.
It was little surprise there were just five singles and no runs
in innings three through six, when the shadows were most
”He’s hard to hit when you can see well, and even harder when
you can’t,” Holliday said of Gonzalez. ”It’s hard to hit when you
can’t see the ball, see the spin on the ball.”
NOTES: The Cardinals went 0 for 8 with runners in scoring
position. … Garcia was 4-2 with a 2.82 ERA in nine starts at
home. The lefty has a 2.48 career ERA at Busch. … Kozma committed
one error in 26 games after taking over as the regular SS in
September for injured Rafael Furcal.