ST. LOUIS, Mo. – The Nationals have won games in many ways this season but none quite as improbable as their 3-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 1 of the National League Divisional Series.
Much has been made about the Cardinals’ experience heading into this series, but it was the youth of the Nationals that paved the way to a 1-0 series lead. Washington ace Gio Gonzalez, who was making his first ever postseason start after not pitching for eight days, struggled mightily with his command, tying a career high with seven walks over five innings. He gave up just one hit but trailed 2-1 when he left, throwing 110 pitches.
The biggest key to the game came in the 7th inning when, with two on, Craig Stammen hit Matt Holliday to lead the bases with no one out. Ryan Mattheus came out of the bullpen and threw just two pitches to get out of the jam.
Mattheus got Allen Craig to ground to short, who threw out John Jay trying to score. Then Mattheus got Yadier Molina to hit into a 5-4-3 double play to get out of the inning.
“That’s the biggest game I have ever been in and that’s the three biggest outs and the two biggest pitches I have ever made,” said Mattheus.
“Being down one run, I wanted to pump the team up and hopefully get some momentum going in our direction. I came in pumped up and they got pumped up right along with me.”
Mitchell Boggs started the 8th for the Cardinals and Michael Morse reached on an error by shortstop Pete Kozma. Ian Desmond singled to put runners at first and second. Danny Espinosa, who had struck out three times already, laid down a sacrifice bunt to get the runners to second and third.
After Kurt Suzuki struck out, Davey Johnson called on Chad Tracy to pinch-hit. Cardinals skipper Mike Matheny called on left hander Mark Rzepczynski to face Tracy which led Johnson to counter with rookie Tyler Moore.
Moore delivered with a two-run single to right field scoring Morse and Desmond to give the Nats a 3-2 lead.
“I was just looking for something in my zone,” Moore said. “The one I swung at before was a little bit out of my zone. I was just trying not to do too much and just put the ball in play.”
Johnson is more of an old school manager than anything else. He doesn’t like to bunt which he did with Espinosa and he prefers guys with track records when the game is on the line.
“I’d rather have the veteran player in that situation rather than the rookie,” said Johnson. “But, rookies have been part of our success all year. They have been doing a heck of a job and Moore has gotten some big hits for us like he did tonight.”
The experience factor just doesn’t seem to matter much to this team. They were playing the defending champions in their ballpark with 47-thousand fans screaming at them.
“I mean its baseball,” said shortstop Ian Desmond.
“There is no science behind it. If you played baseball before, you got experience. It’s about controlling your heartbeat and we did that today.”
And no one on this team was surprised at what Moore was able to do with the biggest at bat in his young career.
“The kid has 10 or 11 home runs with 200 at bats,” said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman.
“There is one thing we are all sure about is that he can hit and he’ll always be able to hit. We are lucky to have a guy like that on our bench.”
Game 2 on Monday will feature another youngster, Jordan Zimmermann on the hill for the Nationals against Jamie Garcia.