In the first rematch of last season’s National League Divisional Series, the Washington Nationals dropped the first of a three game series to the St. Louis Cardinals, 3-2, before a chilly crowd of 27,263 at Nationals Park.
Nats starter Dan Haren pitched his best game of the season to date, but was outdueled by Cardinals rookie Shelby Miller, as the Cards rookie and three relievers limited the Nats to five hits for the night.
The Cardinals got to Haren (L, 0-3, 7.36) in the third inning. Pete Kozma — Nats nemesis — singled over Danny Espinosa’s head at second base on a 2-0 count with one out and went to second on Shelby Miller’s sacrifice. Matt Carpenter then coaxed a free pass to set up Allen Craig. Craig got fooled on a 2-1 cutter, but he lefted a fly ball into the wind and it carried to the wall in left center. Denard Span lept at the last, crashing into the fence, but he could not come down with it. Two runs scored on the play.
The Nats (10-9) answered off Miller in the fourth. Jayson Werth reached on an infield single and scored on Ian Desmond’s two-out double to center. Anthony Rendon, in his second Major League game, worked the count full before lining a double to right center for his first big league hit and RBI, plating Desmond easily to tie the score.
The Cardinals came back in the sixth and chased Haren quickly. Haren hit Matt Holliday on with a 1-1 fastball to lead off the inning. Carlos Beltran hit the next pitch into right for a single. Yadier Molina then hit the very next pitch into right for a single to score Holliday from second. Haren then walked David Freese on a close inside pitch, his 97th of the night, and Davey Johnson had seen enough.
Johnson summoned Craig Stammen from the pen and the dependable righty got Jon Jay to ground into a nifty 3-2-3 double play. After intentionally walking Kozma, Stammen calmly struck out Miller with a 91-MPH sinker to end the threat.
Haren’s line was solid: five innings, three earned runs on six hits and three walks with three strikeouts. But it wasn’t enough on a night the offense was quieted.
Unfortunately, the offense just couldn’t mount any comeback against the Cards to change the score. The Nats put two runners on in the seventh against Miller with two outs, but Joe Kelly came in and got pinch-hitter Chad Tracy to fly out to center on a great sliding catch by Jon Jay. They put two more on in the eighth against Trevor Rosenthal, but the fireballer froze Ian Desmond with a 97 MPH fastball on the outside black to squelch the rally.
Edward Mujica finished things up for the Cards with a 1-2-3 ninth inning for his second save of the season.
THE GOOD: The double play turned by Adam laRoche and Kurt Suzuki to keep it 3-2 in the sixth was a thing of beauty. In fact, the Nats turned three DPs on the night helping their cause, maybe a little turning the tide on the Nats defensive woes this season so far. Rendon started a 5-4-3 in the sixth with a sharp, calm feed to Espinosa perfectly on the glove-side.
THE BAD: Ian Desmond looking at strike three with runners at second and third and two outs in the eighth inning. Rosenthal is a “challenge” pitcher, he puts his fastball up there and challenges you to hit it. Desmond looked like he wanted no part of it.
THE UGLY: LaRoche went 0-for-4, stranding three and lowering his season batting average to .185.
THE STATS: 5 hits, 3 BBs, 11 ks. 1-for-7 with RISP, 6 LOB. No errors, 3 DPs.
NEXT GAME: Tuesday at 7:05 against the Cardinals. Ross Detwiler (1-0, 0.90) hosts Adam Wainright (3-1, 2.48).