Sep 23, 2013, 4:28 PM EST
ST. LOUIS — Check out the accompanying photo. No, this isn’t the Oakland Coliseum the day after a Raiders game. It’s Busch Stadium, which 48 hours ago hosted its first-ever football game, a titanic FCS clash between Southern Illinois and Southeast Missouri. That game, inexplicably scheduled for late-September, two days before the Cardinals opened their final homestand of the regular season, drew a crowd of 14,618 and left behind a mess. The grounds crew here re-sodded most of the outfield, but you can tell it’s soft and hasn’t taken root yet. And there are still several areas where the football lines remain. It’s not pretty.
Into this slop pit come the Nationals, who open the final week of their season with zero margin for error. They trail the Reds and Pirates by 5 games with 6 to play, and it’s possible they could be eliminated by night’s end (it would require a Nats loss and wins by both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh).
Fortunately, the Nationals have their ace on the mound. No, not Stephen Strasburg. Not Jordan Zimmermann. Not Gio Gonzalez. It’s Tanner Roark, of course, seeking to improve to 8-0 in his career and possibly even reduce his ERA below its current 1.08 mark. He’ll face the always-tough Adam Wainwright.
Updates to come live from the shadow of the Gateway Arch, so please check back…
WASHINGTON NATIONALS at ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Where: Busch Stadium
Gametime: 8:15 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN, MLB.tv
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500 AM), XM 89
Weather: Clear, 69 degrees, Wind 8 mph in from RF
CF Denard Span
3B Ryan Zimmerman
RF Jayson Werth
LF Bryce Harper
SS Ian Desmond
1B Adam LaRoche
C Wilson Ramos
2B Anthony Rendon
RHP Tanner Roark
2B Matt Carpenter
CF Jon Jay
RF Carlos Beltran
1B Matt Adams
C Yadier Molina
3B David Freese
SS Daniel Descalso
LF Shane Robinson
RHP Adam Wainwright
HP Chad Fairchild
1B Paul Schreiber
2B Jeff Kellogg (cc)
3B Eric Cooper
8:10 p.m. — Late lineup change for the Cardinals. Matt Holliday has been scratched with a bad back.
8:17 p.m. — And we’re underway with a ball from Adam Wainwright to Denard Span. Bad news for the Nats: Both the Pirates and Reds already lead their respective games.
8:29 p.m. — Look out, Big Mac Land. Jayson Werth almost just reached you with a towering, two-run blast estimated at 439 feet to left field. Werth’s 24th homer of the year puts the Nats up 2-0 early, thanks also to Denard Span’s leadoff single. Wainwright has struggled to get through the first inning this season, and that only continues the trend. Tanner Roark now takes the mound with a lead.
8:40 p.m. — But the Cardinals get a quick run back. A leadoff walk to Matt Carpenter came back to haunt Roark, who later allowed two-out singles to both Matt Adams and Yadier Molina. So it’s 2-1 Nats after one.
8:58 p.m. — Better stuff from Roark in the bottom of the second. He retired the side in order, getting a nice play from Adam LaRoche at first base. Still 2-1 Nats.
9:12 p.m. — A couple of close calls for Bryce Harper in left field in the bottom of the third. He appeared to be having trouble with the lights on line drives hit by Carpenter and Adams. No worries, he caught both of them, getting Roark through another scoreless inning. It remains 2-1 Nats. Elsewhere, the Mets have tied the Reds 2-2 in the sixth. The Pirates lead the Cubs 1-0 in the fourth.
9:23 p.m. — The Nats just completed an 0-for-9 stretch against Wainwright since the Werth homer. Which isn’t all that surprising. Wainwright’s first-inning ERA this year is 5.91, but 2.49 in every other inning. The Nats did get a pair of one-out singles from Harper and Desmond in the fourth, putting runners on the corners. But that rally fizzled when LaRoche grounded into a double play, just another frustrating moment in a season full of them for the veteran first baseman. Still 2-1 Nats heading to the bottom of the fourth.
9:38 p.m. — Yes, Roark has been successful at this level because of guile and deception. But don’t discount the fact he’s got legit stuff, too. Facing a tough spot in the bottom of the fourth, with two runners in scoring position and Carpenter at the plate in a 2-2 count, Roark fired a pair of 94 mph fastballs in on the hands. Carpenter fouled off the first one. He took the second for strike three, a big-time out from Roark. The Cards did plate the tying run earlier on three singles to right field, but the end of the inning was quite impressive. 2-2 as we go to the fifth.
10:00 p.m. — The Cards finally got to Roark for a big hit in the bottom of the fifth. Carlos Beltran tagged a high, 3-1 fastball into the bullpen, putting the Nats in a 4-2 hole. Here’s Roark’s numbers in his first three MLB starts: 19 IP, 12 H, 2 ER. Tonight: 5 IP, 9 H, 4 ER. Obviously he’s facing a tough lineup tonight.
10:19 p.m. — A scoreless sixth for Fernando Abad to keep this a 4-2 deficit. The Nats still haven’t scored off Wainwright since Werth’s first-inning homer.
10:25 p.m. — The Nats have produced three baserunners off Wainwright since Werth’s homer way back in the first. They still trail 4-2 at the stretch.
10:34 p.m. — Abad gets through a scoreless bottom of the seventh, but the Nats may have to rally here to keep their season alive. Starling Marte just homered in the top of the ninth to put the Pirates up 2-1 in Chicago. The Reds are going to extra innings against the Mets.
10:47 p.m. — The Nats got a run home in the eighth and finally knocked Wainwright out. But it’s only 4-3 as we go to the bottom of the eighth. Meanwhile, the Pirates just pulled off a 2-1 win in Chicago, so their magic number is down to 1.
11:00 p.m. — It’s over. Officially. The Nats lose 4-3, and combined with the Pirates and Reds’ wins, they are eliminated.
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
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As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
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SAT: 10:30 a.m.
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