When asked what team they believe will win the NL Pennant this year, most knowledgable baseball fans will choose either the Washington Nationals, the Los Angeles Dodgers, or the St Louis Cardinals, a team that has played in the NLCS each of the last four years. On Tuesday night, in the opener of a series that could be a playoff preview, the Nationals defeated the Cardinals 2-1 on a walk off home run by Yunel Escobar, his second home run of the season.
The Nationals and Cardinals both received strong performances from their starting pitching, a part of the ball club both teams are known for. Gio Gonzalez , making his third start of the season, went six strong innings en route to a no-decision. While his outing was far from perfect, as the lefty allowed eight hits and handed out four walks to the Cardinals lineup, Gio was consistently able to bear down and pitch himself out of the many jams he got into. With those six scoreless innings, Gonzalez was able to lower his ERA down to 3.44.
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For the Cardinals, Lance Lynn pitched well enough to deserve a win but came away with just a no decision. Lynn, who most Nationals fans know as the reliever who gave up Jayson Werth‘s walk off homer in Game 4 of the 2012 NLCS, pitched 6.1 innings, struck out seven and allowed one run. Despite lowering his ERA to 1.56 on the season, Lynn also struggled with his command with four walks, matching Gonzalez’s total.
The Nats were able to bring home their first run in the third inning against Lynn. While the Cardinals right hander induced a ground ball out from Denard Span to open the frame, Ian Desmond followed with his fifth double of the year, a hard line drive that took off over Jason Heyward‘s glove and caromed off the right field wall on a bounce.
After Werth induced a one out walk from Lynn, Bryce Harper hit a well placed ground ball through the left side of the infield to drive home Span. However, the inning came to a quick close on a line drive double play off the bat of Ryan Zimmerman, a play where center fielder Jon Jay made a running catch and Harper was called out for not re-touching second base on his way back to first.
The Nationals appeared poised for a victory until the ninth inning, when closer Drew Storen brought back memories of his blown save against the Cardinals in the 2012 NLDS that ended the Nationals season. Storen, who blew his first save of the season, allowed a leadoff base hit to Matt Carpenter. While Storen was able to strike out Heyward, two wild pitches allowed Carpenter to take an extra 180 feet to get to third base. Matt Holliday, who remains a productive hitter at age 35, tied the game up with a grounder into left field for his fourth hit of the night. Holliday is currently on a 12-game hitting streak. Storen was able to escape the inning by striking out Jhonny Peralta and Wilson Ramos throwing out Holliday as he tried to steal second.
The Nationals nearly won it in the bottom of the ninth. One out walks to Danny Espinosa and Dan Uggla preceded an infield single by Denard Span to load the bases. Unfortunately, former Braves reliever Jordan Walden was able to strike out Ian Desmond to bring up Werth with two outs. Werth scalded a ball to center field, where it seemed destined to land as a walk off single, but center fielder Jon Jay had different ideas, snagging the line drive just before it hit the grass.
However, the Nats would ultimately secure the game in the following inning. Facing righty Carlos Villanueva (1-1) with two outs, Yunel Escobar scalded an inside fastball into the Cardinals bullpen for a 2-1 Nats win. Aaron Barrett (2-0) pitched a scoreless top of the inning for his second win of the season.
Next Game: The Washington Nationals will be back in action tomorrow night at 7:05 PM ET against the St. Louis Cardinals at Nats Park. You can catch the game on MASN and ESPN. Doug Fister (1-0, 0.69) gets the ball for the Nats against John Lackey (1-0, 2.77).