ST. LOUIS — 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.
“Do I look overanxious? You think so?” he said to one reporter. “Maybe you should be a hitting coach.”
Zimmermann lasted a season-low three innings while pitching on eight days’ rest. His next-shortest outing this year also was against the Cardinals, when he coughed up a four-run, first-inning cushion and was chased after yielding eight runs in 3 2-3 innings during a 10-9 loss at home.
The numbers weren’t favorable for the 25-year-old right-hander prior to first pitch, given he’s 0-2 with a 9.45 ERA in five career regular-season starts against the Cardinals. They were 3 for 5 with runners in scoring position against a pitcher who led the majors by holding opponents to a .160 average.
“They have a great lineup,” Zimmermann said. “You get a few guys out and then you’ve got Beltran, (David) Freese and it never stops. You have to make your pitches and I wasn’t able to do that tonight.”
Nationals batters made contact on just four of Garcia’s 24 pitches in the first, threatening with a pair of walks. Garcia went to a full count on five of his first eight hitters, and threw 51 pitches in two innings while surrendering Zimmermann’s RBI single in the second.
The Cardinals had 18-game winner Lance Lynn warming up in the second and the right-hander stood on the bullpen mound during St. Louis’ four-run inning. Pinch-hitter Skip Schumaker stood on the top dugout step while Pete Kozma struck out for the first out in the second and it was no decoy, with Schumaker contributing a run-scoring groundout to the rally.
Before heading to the on-deck circle, Garcia knew he was done for the day.
“I told them when I went in that I was coming out,” he said.
Lynn, who would likely replace Garcia in the rotation, struck out five in a three-inning stint marred by the consecutive homers.
“I was ready from the get-go in case anything happened,” he said. “Something I was able to do at times this year, able to be down in the bullpen a little bit, and I was able to use that experience.”
St. Louis opened the second with four straight hits, singles by Craig and Yadier Molina that set the table followed by an RBI double from Freese and a run-scoring single from Descalso.
NOTES: Cardinals RHP Jake Westbrook, rehabbing from a pulled oblique, will leave the team for a few days to be with his wife, due to deliver the couple’s fourth child. GM John Mozeliak said it’s “not likely” that Westbrook, a 13-game winner, will be able to pitch this fall. … Beltran has 13 career postseason homers. His last two-homer game in the postseason was Oct. 15, 2006, with the Mets against St. Louis in the NLCS. … The Cardinals matched the franchise high for runs in a division series game. They also scored 12 in 2002 against Arizona.