ST. LOUIS (AP) — Three hits and an excruciating loss one day, double-digit runs and a laugher the next. The St. Louis Cardinals have been that type of team all season.
The defending World Series champions tied their NL division series with Washington at one game apiece by doing what they do best — forgetting about what happened the day before and concentrating on the game at hand. They lost the division series and NLCS openers last year, and look how that turned out.
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 Nationals on Monday.
‘‘We know this offense has the potential to do this,’’ Cardinals rookie manager Mike Matheny said. ‘‘It was nice to see this, and hopefully it becomes contagious and the guys just keep going.’’
Daniel Descalso and Allen Craig also went deep to help the Cardinals 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.
‘‘If we get things going, we feel like we can carry the team,’’ Craig said. ‘‘As you saw tonight, we put a lot of good swings on the ball and really drove the ball. It was a lot of fun.’’
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.
‘‘I miss him not experiencing this with us and he misses not experiencing it with us,’’ Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. ‘‘But we did the right thing, there’s no question.
‘‘He'd have been the guy that opened the series.’’
Garcia was taken out with a shoulder injury and sent for an MRI exam. The left-hander missed two months this season with shoulder fatigue.
‘‘It just wasn’t right the whole time. I had to come out of the game,’’ Garcia said. ‘‘I don’t know how it happened, I don’t know when it happened.
‘‘I'm just hoping it’s not too bad, but at the same time you've just got to wait and see how it goes.’’
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.’’
After the Nationals rallied late to win the opener 3-2, there were no lineup changes in Game 2 — 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. Beltran’s drive off Gonzalez in the sixth banged off the facade in the third deck in left, estimated at 444 feet.
‘‘I hope I never see this offense again,’’ Johnson said to much laughter in the postgame interview room.
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 1½ 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.Continued...