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Instant analysis: Nats 3, Cardinals 2

Apr 20, 2014, 4:58 PM EDT

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GAME IN A NUTSHELL: Twenty-four hours after a drama-filled loss that was highlighted by Matt Williams’ decision to bench Bryce Harper for failing to run out a routine grounder, the Nationals were back on the field with renewed purpose in their series finale against the Cardinals. Harper was back in the lineup himself and he immediately got a chance to bust down the line on a first-inning groundball.

Stephen Strasburg, on the heels of a poor performance in Miami, was all business. The right-hander struck out nine over six dominant innings, though he departed in line for the loss after allowing two runs, with the Nationals unable to make a dent into Cardinals starter Shelby Miller.

The rally finally came in the bottom of the seventh, though, against hard-throwing reliever Carlos Martinez. Adam LaRoche, Anthony Rendon, Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa all singled in succession, bringing home the tying run and setting the stage for a dramatic finish.

After some effective relief from Jerry Blevins and Rafael Soriano, the Nationals produced the game-winning rally in the bottom of the ninth, with Denard Span battling through a tough at-bat with the bases loaded and five infielders deployed by the Cardinals to loft a soft flyball to left field, deep enough to score Espinosa and give the Nationals a four-game series split.

HITTING HIGHLIGHT: The Nationals gave themselves chances all afternoon, but aside from their seventh-inning rally couldn’t deliver in big spots. That led to an astounding 15 runners stranded on base through the game’s first eight innings. But then it finally came together when it mattered most in the bottom of the ninth. Espinosa got things started with a shot that third baseman Matt Carpenter couldn’t handle. Jose Lobaton followed with a single to right, moving Espinosa all the way to third base. After Nate McLouth drew a walk, the Cardinals employed a 5-man infield with the bases loaded. But Span battled through a tough at-bat with Seth Maness before lofting a fly ball deep enough to left field to bring Espinosa home with the game-winner.

PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: Strasburg was downright dominant for the vast majority of his start. Displaying better fastball command than he had in previous outings this season, he also mixed in a flurry of devastating changeups and several effective curveballs, staying away from his newly developed slider for the most part. That resulted in nine strikeouts in only six innings. This wasn’t, however, a perfect outing by the right-hander. He slipped up a couple of times and paid the price for it. Matt Adams led off the second with a double, and Yadier Molina immediately followed with a single, leading to the Cardinals’ first run. Then in the fifth, Strasburg walked No. 8 hitter Peter Bourjos with two outs and immediately served up an RBI double to opposing pitcher Shelby Miller. Proof that no matter how good your stuff is on a given day, you can’t ease off the gas pedal ever.

KEY STAT: Espinosa is now hitting .324 this season from the left side of his plate. Prior to this year, he hit .219 left-handed for his career.

UP NEXT: The Nationals get their first taste of interleague play this season, and we all get a marquee matchup of stud young outfielders. It’s Harper and the Nats vs. Mike Trout and the Angels for the next three nights, starting with Monday’s 7:05 p.m. series opener. Tanner Roark is on the mound, facing Los Angeles right-hander Garrett Richards.

  1. veejh - Apr 20, 2014 at 5:01 PM

    Serious comeback win. Error free ball. No Stras meltdown. This game is really something to build on. Espi and Lobo were excellent.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 20, 2014 at 5:04 PM

      Espi was the offensive star of this game and Lobaton with 3 hits today!

      Great relief work!

      • veejh - Apr 20, 2014 at 5:12 PM

        The Blevins K on Adams was huge.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 20, 2014 at 5:15 PM

        Sure was. Nats have needed a key lefty stopper. He got BABIP’d on the 2 hits but regrouped and that K was huge.

  2. David Proctor - Apr 20, 2014 at 5:01 PM

    A split against the Cardinals and one error from takong 3/4. And that’s without Ramos, Zimmerman and Fister. I’ll take it.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 20, 2014 at 5:04 PM

      +1 all season long!

    • unkyd59 - Apr 20, 2014 at 5:39 PM

      +1 That’s a key observation there, I don’t care who y’are…

    • Steady Eddie - Apr 20, 2014 at 9:01 PM

      +1 Good summary — this feels like a huge turning the corner (warning — ridiculous mixed metaphor alert) on getting one major monkey off the team’s back.

  3. Mrsb loves the Nats - Apr 20, 2014 at 5:01 PM

    What a game… What a series… Took advantage of the opportunities (finally)…

  4. sjberke - Apr 20, 2014 at 5:02 PM

    First post-game Gatorade attack of the season–Dan did a pretty good dodge (wonder if he’ll get a congratulatory tweet from Julie)

    • scmargenau - Apr 20, 2014 at 8:24 PM

      What happened to Julie? She was great.

  5. Mrsb loves the Nats - Apr 20, 2014 at 5:03 PM

    I’m happy with the split… I mean this Carsd team is down right good… Just can’t compliment them enough… But I seriously, wish we could have won yesterday’s game…

    • Eric - Apr 20, 2014 at 5:08 PM

      Me, too re: yesterday; still, to have split with them missing key pieces, Harp and Werth scuffling a bit, etc., is just fantastic. Bottom of the order crucial today!

      • Mrsb loves the Nats - Apr 20, 2014 at 5:15 PM

        Yes.. Danny E is the unsung hero today… So is Lobaton…

        Desi definitely scuffling too…

        I may be a homer… But I love this team…

      • Eric - Apr 20, 2014 at 5:20 PM

        Good call re: Desi, although he was part of the clutch 4-single inning that tied it up…

        Just a great, fell good ending. Woo!

  6. Eric - Apr 20, 2014 at 5:06 PM

    Reposting:
    Man! Span still in full on game mode for onfield interview.
    I LOVE that we won this game with our bats. Almost glad we didn’t score on all those gimmes (almost ;) ).
    We won this purely on great pitching, solid fielding, and clutch hitting.

  7. coop202 - Apr 20, 2014 at 5:11 PM

    Um… What clutch hitting? We left 15 runners on base? Clutch hitting would’ve meant a 6-2 win

    • Eric - Apr 20, 2014 at 5:15 PM

      Did you see how we scored our three runs? Just as clutch successes don’t erase clutch fails, clutch fails don’t eliminate clutch successes.

  8. veejh - Apr 20, 2014 at 5:11 PM

    Mets in bottom of 12th. Make my day and win this.

  9. Eric - Apr 20, 2014 at 5:13 PM

    Great comments from MW re: Espi in post game interview.

    • Mrsb loves the Nats - Apr 20, 2014 at 5:17 PM

      I just re-watched the 7th inning over and now watching the D Span at bat… :-)

      • Eric - Apr 20, 2014 at 5:19 PM

        Awesome!

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 20, 2014 at 5:17 PM

      Help me out, what did he say?

      • Eric - Apr 20, 2014 at 5:19 PM

        Just reiterated how good his approach is, how he’s all around a really solid player, and that he’s very happy for Espi that he’s succeeding, having had to battle his way back himself.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 20, 2014 at 5:29 PM

        Good stuff. Today was Espi’s day. Clutch hit with RISP and the 9th inning single was huge. I have been waiting since the day of his September callup to see a total Espi.

        He had a great start to his rookie year if you look at stats but that Espi wasn’t a good offensive player and was on a sharp regression. This new Espi is learning how to hit and succeed and today put it together and didn’t need a 400 foot HR in the boxscore to win a game.

        Game winner was a productive out!

  10. realdealnats - Apr 20, 2014 at 5:22 PM

    I’ve been a serious Soriano doubter and am happily eating crow so far. Been keeping a low profile so as not to jinx everything. Nice to see Espi swinging the bat to effect. And great to see Lobaton filling in so well for Ramos.

    • knoxvillenat - Apr 20, 2014 at 9:30 PM

      In that case stay low my friend stay low!

  11. Mrsb loves the Nats - Apr 20, 2014 at 5:24 PM

    Loved the fist pump by Danny E on the game tieing run….

    • Eric - Apr 20, 2014 at 5:32 PM

      That was fantastic!

  12. stoatva - Apr 20, 2014 at 5:30 PM

    Glad we didn’t go extra innings like Braves/Mets, Brewers/Bucs, Yankees/Rays.

  13. letswin3 - Apr 20, 2014 at 5:32 PM

    Just got here, so I haven’t read the post of others yet. But I want to make one observation that stood out to me ….. between innings (maybe the 5th and 6th) the TV cameras picked up Stras in the dugout talking to Lobaton. This was no casual chat while passing each other, they were seated, with Stras actively involved in what looked to be a serious decision about pitching (including animated hand gestures that looked like maybe stuff moving from left to right). I can’t ever remember him doing anything in the dugout having to do with strategizing, at least while he was still in the game. I’ll take this as a positive sign. He also did a nice job today, and didn’t seem to get rattled.

    • letswin3 - Apr 20, 2014 at 5:34 PM

      Correction: It would have been in the bottom of an inning, while the Nats were hitting and he was in the dugout waiting for the next inning to begin.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 20, 2014 at 5:36 PM

      Interesting observations. Strasburg is a perfectionist. I thought they made 1 mistake and that was Bourjous and getting preoccupied with him at 1st.

  14. Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 20, 2014 at 5:33 PM

    “@Nationals: “Danny’s a good player. This game is not easy… Good to see him doing his thing. We love to have him on the team.” — Werth on Espinosa”

    • unkyd59 - Apr 20, 2014 at 5:46 PM

      I just cannot imagine this team without JW… Seriously, doesn’t he seem like the best money ever spent on a ball player, at this point? Who would we be, as a team, without this caveman? Desi is my man, but Werth is just the glue of this team…. I don’t think about that enough…. Props!

    • Eric - Apr 20, 2014 at 5:49 PM

      Awesome. I agree re: Werth being the glue, and I agree with Werth: I love having Espi on this team. He’s amazing to watch on D, and he really seems to be coming around on offense. Was really sad to see him go down (although I agree it was necessary

      METS WIN!!!!!!!!!!!

  15. veejh - Apr 20, 2014 at 5:42 PM

    Bottom of 14th….come on Mets!

    • veejh - Apr 20, 2014 at 5:47 PM

      Man on 2nd….1 out. How about another walkoff win?

    • veejh - Apr 20, 2014 at 5:48 PM

      Wild pitch…..sac fly is all theyneed

  16. veejh - Apr 20, 2014 at 5:49 PM

    Wooooooo!!!! Mets win!

  17. Eric - Apr 20, 2014 at 5:49 PM

    METS WIN!! WoO!

    • veejh - Apr 20, 2014 at 5:51 PM

      Greatest Easter I can remember.

  18. Eric - Apr 20, 2014 at 5:51 PM

    Mets announcers:
    “Granderson is 0-6 today, but he’s grinning walking into the dugout. That has to be the most cleansing sac fly he’s ever hit.”

    LMAO!

  19. David Proctor - Apr 20, 2014 at 5:51 PM

    That is some baffling decision making from Fredi Gonzalez. They intentionally walk Eric Young Jr. to get to Granderson with a righty on the mound?

    • Joe Seamhead - Apr 20, 2014 at 6:28 PM

      Well, there was one out, man on 2nd. By walking Young it sets up the double play situation, but then came the wild pitch to destroy the strategy.Too bad, so sad,eh?

  20. natsfan1a - Apr 20, 2014 at 5:53 PM

    Hmmm, sounds like I need to make time to watch the replay at some point.

  21. veejh - Apr 20, 2014 at 6:00 PM

    Watching the post game….Blevins is one cool customer. I like him a lot.

  22. natsfan24 - Apr 20, 2014 at 6:31 PM

    Great win! The Nats have a lot of fight in them. This is a good sign. The Angels will be another challenge but it sure is nice heading into that series after winning two against STL.

  23. Joe Seamhead - Apr 20, 2014 at 6:42 PM

    Soriano has been cooking with gas so far this year, 8 innings, not one run given up, 11 Ks.

    The first play he made on Friday night to get Molina on the come-backer off his foot got little fanfare but that was a play that I don’y think 90% of the pitchers in the league make.I saw FP after the game and I mentioned that I never knew Raffy could move that fast and FP said “Most people don’t realize it, but the guy is a very good athlete.”

    As far as no errors today:As much I like Jayson, I think he should’ve been charged with an error today. If that had been Tyler Moore missing that catch there would have been a chorus of howls about it, led by me.

    Still, though we give new credence to the phrase “Left a small village on the bases,” it was a satisfying and exciting win. Very happy for Danny Espinosa!

    • nats128 - Apr 20, 2014 at 7:08 PM

      “As far as no errors today:As much I like Jayson, I think he should’ve been charged with an error today. If that had been Tyler Moore missing that catch there would have been a chorus of howls about it, led by me.”

      I thought the sun got in Werths eyes and yes if it was TyMo there would have been many cracking on him.

  24. Sonny G 10 - Apr 20, 2014 at 6:59 PM

    Cards were lucky to win 2 in this series. With a little luck, we could have taken 3 from them.

    • Mrsb loves the Nats - Apr 20, 2014 at 7:07 PM

      So it’s Gio, Tanner and TJ against the Angels?

      What is the rotation… I’m getting them mixed up…

      • knoxvillenat - Apr 20, 2014 at 9:36 PM

        I believe it is Tanner, TJ and Gio in that order.

  25. nats128 - Apr 20, 2014 at 7:04 PM

    Just got home. What a game!

    11 hits, 7 walks, 1 HBP and 1 runner reached on an error for a total of 20 baserunners of which 17 were Left-on-Base. Team RISP: 2-for-12.

    The only way you win a game like this is great pitching and fielding which the Nats got.

  26. scmargenau - Apr 20, 2014 at 9:41 PM

    Wow. From boz at wapost

    Harper has not driven in 60 runs in either of his two seasons. He has only five RBI this year. He’s never had more than 157 runs-plus-RBI. Ryan Zimmerman has had between 163 and 216 six times. Adam LaRoche, no big star, has had 175 or more three times. Fourth outfielder Nate McLouth once had 207. Can we get a grip? Counting their three top starting pitchers, Harper may be the Nats’ seventh-best player. If forced to choose whether Harper or Anthony Rendon would have the better career, I’d think twice. Harper is in a self-conscious, fierce scowl-off with baseball. Rendon dances with it and grins. Baseball loves relaxed.

    I think harpers overrated…but this article was tough

    • scbilly - Apr 21, 2014 at 10:09 AM

      The runs plus RBI point seems a little cheap. He hasn’t played a full healthy season yet (called up about a month into 2012 and on the DL or playing on one knee for all but a couple of weeks in 2013), so holding counting stats against him is a bit harsh. But Boz’s point that he gets too much love for pure potential for a third year player is on the mark.

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