Cardinals use HR barrage to even NLDS with Nationals

Tuesday, October 9, 2012
The Cardinals’ Daniel Descalso is congratulated by teammates in the dugout after hitting a solo home run against the Nationals during the fourth inning in Game 2 of the National League division series in St. Louis. The Cardinals hit four home runs in a 12-4 victory. (Tom Gannam ~ Associated Press)

ST. LOUIS -- Never count out the Cardinals in October -- especially after they lose a series opener.

Carlos Beltran hit the last two of the Cardinals' four homers and St. Louis chased an ineffective Jordan Zimmermann early in a 12-4 rout of the Washington Nationals on Monday that tied their NL division series at one game apiece.

"We know this offense has the potential to do this," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "It was nice to see this, and hopefully it becomes contagious and the guys just keep going."

Allen Craig and Daniel Descalso also went deep to help the defending World Series champions build a big lead that compensated for a two-inning start from an ailing Jaime Garcia. Craig hit his fifth career postseason homer and scored three times.

Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche hit consecutive homers in the fifth for the Nationals, who head home for the remainder of the best-of-five series. But the NL East champions are without All-Star ace Stephen Strasburg, shut down for the rest of the season early last month to protect his surgically repaired arm.

Cardinals center fielder Jon Jay leaps at the wall to catch a fly ball off the bat of the Nationals’ Danny Espinosa during the sixth inning of Game 2 of the National League division series Monday in St. Louis. The Cardinals won 12-4. (Chris Lee ~ St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Game 3 is Wednesday afternoon at Nationals Park, the first postseason contest in the nation's capital since the original Senators played the New York Giants in the 1933 World Series. Edwin Jackson starts for Washington against longtime Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter, who made only three starts during the regular season because of injury.

"Today, for us, was a must-win game," Beltran said.

The Cardinals seem to live for those. They lost the division series and NLCS openers last fall, then finished strong in the World Series after spotting Texas a 3-2 lead.

So, they're on familiar ground. And once again, as a wild card.

"We knew how big this game was for us," center fielder Jon Jay said. "We've seen it all year -- when we are able to do that, we are pretty dangerous."

The Cardinals’ Allen Craig hits a solo home run against the Nationals during the third inning of Game 2 of their National League division series Monday in St. Louis. (Tom Gannam ~ Associated Press)

There were no lineup changes in Game 2 of the division series, just a lot more clutch hitting from players accustomed to October pressure.

Beltran homered twice in the postseason for the third time in his career, connecting in the sixth off Mike Gonzalez and eighth off Sean Burnett. Jay had two hits and three RBIs, plus an outstanding catch at the center-field wall to deprive Danny Espinosa of extra bases in the sixth.

"One of the best catches I've seen. I think it's his best catch of the year," Matheny said. "He barely looked up as he was hitting the wall. Very impressive."

St. Louis was 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position during Game 1 and totaled just three hits, but the Cardinals had five hits in a four-run second Monday. Descalso hit his first postseason homer in the fourth, a day after getting robbed by Jayson Werth's leaping catch at the right-field wall, and Beltran's drive off Gonzalez in the sixth banged off the facade in the third deck in left, estimated at 444 feet.

"Their numbers speak for themselves," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said about the Cardinals. "They have got a fine hitting ballclub, and good pitching will slow down good hitting, but you've got to make pitches, and we didn't do that tonight."

St. Louis Cardinals center fielder Jon Jay leaps at the wall to catch a fly ball off the bat of Washington Nationals' Danny Espinosa during the sixth inning of Game 2 of the National League division baseball series, Monday, Oct. 8, 2012, in St. Louis. The Cardinals won 12-4. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Chris Lee) EDWARDSVILLE INTELLIGENCER OUT; THE ALTON TELEGRAPH OUT

Shadows creeped past the pitcher's mound around the third inning and didn't seem to be as big of an issue in Game 2, which started 1 1/2 hours later than the opener. Both teams had issues with the playing conditions after the opener.

Late last season, after complaints from Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman, the Cardinals said they'd try not to schedule late afternoon games that might be affected.

Nationals rookie Bryce Harper went 1 for 5 and struck out four times. He also was thrown out at third base on an ill-advised attempt to advance. He is 1 for 10 in the series with six strikeouts.

Zimmermann lasted a season-low three innings while pitching on eight days' rest. His next-shortest outing also was against the Cardinals, when he yielded eight runs in 3 2/3 innings in a 10-9 loss at home.

The 25-year-old right-hander was 0-2 with a 9.45 ERA in five career regular-season starts against the Cardinals going into the game. St. Louis was 3 for 5 with runners in scoring position against a pitcher who led the majors by holding opponents to a .160 average.

The Cardinals’ Allen Craig rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run off Nationals starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann during the third inning. (Jeff Roberson ~ Associated Press)

Nationals batters made contact on just four of Garcia's 24 pitches in the first but threatened with a pair of walks. Garcia went to a full count on five of his first eight hitters and threw 51 pitches in two innings. He surrendered Zimmermann's RBI single in the second.

Matheny said Garcia was pulled because of an arm issue. The left-hander missed more than two months this season with a strained shoulder.

"Jaime's arm wasn't feeling right at the time," Matheny said. "He's out right now getting an MRI, getting it looked at. Don't have the results, but we'll be able to comment on that, make a statement tomorrow."

The Cardinals had 18-game winner Lance Lynn warming up in the second, and the right-hander stood on the bullpen mound during St. Louis' four-run inning. Pinch-hitter Skip Schumaker stood on the top dugout step while Pete Kozma struck out for the first out in the second and it was no decoy. Schumaker contributed a run-scoring groundout to the rally.

"I was ready from the get-go in case anything happened," Lynn said. "Something I was able to do at times this year, able to be down in the bullpen a little bit, and I was able to use that experience."

St. Louis opened the second with four consecutive hits. Singles by Craig and Yadier Molina set the table for an RBI double by David Freese and a run-scoring single by Descalso.

Noteworthy

* Beltran has 13 career postseason homers. His last two-homer game in the postseason was Oct. 15, 2006, with the Mets against St. Louis in the NLCS.

* The Cardinals matched the franchise high for runs in a division series game. They also scored 12 in 2002 against Arizona.

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