Apr 18, 2014, 9:40 PM EST
GAME IN A NUTSHELL: On the heels of an atrocious performance Thursday night, Matt Williams challenged his players to return to the park Friday with renewed focus and desire. The Nationals responded in kind, delivering the kind of well-played ballgame Williams had been seeking all along.
Gio Gonzalez and Michael Wacha matched pitch-for-pitch, with Wacha allowing only Anthony Rendon’s solo homer in the third and Gonzalez allowing only one run in the fourth. The game remained tied 1-1 in the bottom of the seventh, when the Nationals threatened and then finally took advantage of some sloppy St. Louis mistakes, scoring the tying and go-ahead runs on a wild pitch and subsequent error (the Cardinals’ third of the game).
Up a couple of runs late, the Nationals did make things interesting. Tyler Clippard put two men on and needed a whopping 26 pitches to face only three batters (retiring the last). So Williams summoned Drew Storen to pitch out of the jam, and the right-hander delivered big-time by getting Matt Holliday and Allen Craig and stranding the tying runner in scoring position.
Rafael Soriano then finished things off in the ninth, securing a much-needed win for a Nationals club that had not beaten the Cardinals since Game 4 of the 2012 NLDS, losing eight straight in between.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: Technically, there was no hit involved in the biggest offensive moment of the night for the Nationals. But who are we to nitpick? Singles by Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond got the rally started. Danny Espinosa then put down a sacrifice bunt, which Wacha and third baseman Matt Carpenter misplayed into an error, loading the bases. Nate McLouth struck out and Jose Lobaton tapped a weak grounder in front of the plate, leaving it all up to pinch-hitter Zach Walters. Walters, though, never had to take the bat off his shoulder. Wacha uncorked a wild pitch, scoring Desmond and then Yadier Molina’s wild throw to the plate allowed Espinosa to score as well and give the Nationals the lead.
PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: On a night when the Nationals surely needed a quality start, Gonzalez did even better than that. He was in control from start to finish, his only hiccup a stretch of three straight hits in the top of the fourth that brought home one run. After that, the lefty retired 11 in a row and finished with seven strikeouts to only one walk, all while keeping his pitch count manageable. If there were concerns about Gonzalez’s ability to come up big in a big game, he put those to rest with this performance.
KEY STAT: In the first 11 innings of his career facing the Nationals, Wacha allowed only two hits. Neither left the infield.
UP NEXT: Game 3 of this 4-game series features Jordan Zimmermann and Lance Lynn dueling on the mound. Denard Span is expected to come off the 7-day concussion DL and return to the Nationals’ lineup. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. on what should be a beautiful Saturday afternoon at the park.
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)...
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