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October 17, 2019 / Nat Anacostia

Nats sweep Cardinals to win pennant: ‘This is a beautiful place’

The Nationals were favorites. The Nats had better starting pitching and a stronger lineup. But the Cardinals had been hot in the second half, had a Cy Young candidate in Jack Flaherty, and hoped that the games could get to the bullpen, where they held the advantage. It turned out the Nats’ starters were up to the challenge and the bullpen did its part, as the Nats swept the series.

Game 1, Friday October 11. It was a cold evening in St. Louis, about 45 degrees at game time. Aníbal Sánchez started for the Nationals, while the Cardinals countered with Miles Mikolas. The Nats struck first, when Howie Kendrick led off the top of the second with a double to deep right-center. Two outs later, Yan Gomes hit a double to the left-center gap, scoring Kendrick and putting the Nats up 1 to 0.

In the bottom of the inning, Marcell Ozuna squared up on a cutter and drove it to deep center where Michael A. Taylor caught it on the warning track. On a warmer night it may have been a home run. It turned out to be the only time the Cardinals would barrel a ball that night. Sánchez mixed up his seven pitches and hit his spots, leading to weak contact and a lot of soft fly balls.

In the fourth, the Cards got their first base runner when Sánchez walked Kelton Wong. Wong stole second and advanced to third on a throwing error by Gomes. But Ozuna fouled out to end the inning.

In the fifth, the Nats managed to load the bases on two singles and a walk, but were unable to score a run. In the sixth, Ryan Zimmerman hit a one-out double but was left stranded. In the bottom of the sixth, Cardinals pinch hitter Randy Arozarena was hit by a pitch and stole second. He made it to third before Sánchez got Wong to fly out, ending the inning. Sánchez had not allowed a hit. Meanwhile, Mikolas had also been quite effective, pitching 6 innings and allowing one run on 7 scattered hits and 2 walks (one intentional) while striking out 7. It was still 1 to 0.

In the top of the seventh, Giovanny Gallegos was pitching for the Cards, and Adam Eaton hit a one-out triple. Rendon was intentionally walked, and Andrew Miller was brought in to face Juan Soto, who struck out. Then the Cards brought in John Brebbia to face Kendrick, who singled to drive in Eaton and increase the Nats’ lead to 2 to 0.  In the bottom of the seventh, Sánchez hit Molina with a pitch, but set down the other three batters. He was at 89 pitches after seven innings with a no-hitter still intact.

In the bottom of the eighth, the Tommy Edman led off with a line drive toward first. Zimmerman made a diving catch to snag the ball and keep the no-hit bid alive. After another fly ball out, José Martínez came in as a pinch hitter and hit a short line drive to center that landed for a single, ending the no-hit bid after 7-2/3 innings. Sean Doolittle came in to get the last four outs. He retired all four batters he faced on three ground outs and one strikeout. The Nats won 2 to 0.

Daniel Hudson missed the game that evening but was making some history by becoming the first player to use the paternity leave list in the postseason when he went home for the birth of his daughter. The paternity list had been introduced for regular season games in 2011, and was extended to postseason games in 2016 after Blue Jays reliever Aaron Loup missed some games for the premature birth of his son. Of course a few Neanderthals criticized Hudson for missing the game, but the Nationals defended him. Doolittle was quoted, “If your reaction to someone having a baby is anything other than, ‘Congratulations, I hope everybody’s healthy,’ you’re an a–hole.” Jeff Passan of ESPN wrote a nice article describing Hudson’s experiences.

Game 2, Saturday October 12. It was warmer that it had been the previous evening, but Game 2 was a late afternoon start (3:08 Central time, 4:08 Eastern) that meant the batters and fielders would be battling sun and shadows for the first five or six innings. Max Scherzer took the mound for the Nationals, while Adam Wainwright pitched for the Cardinals.

The Nats offense struck in the top of the third when Taylor, leading off the inning, hit the first pitch into the left-field seats, giving the Nats a 1–0 lead. Other than that, the first six innings of the game were a pitcher’s duel. Besides the Taylor home run, the Nats scattered three singles: by Rendon in the first, Taylor in the fifth, and Trea Turner in the sixth. Meanwhile, Scherzer had held the Cards to two walks and had a no-hitter through six. It was the second time in postseason history that two pitchers had held opponents hitless for 5+ innings in consecutive starts—repeating what Sánchez and Scherzer had previously done for the Tigers in the first two games of the 2013 ALCS.

In the seventh, Wainwright retired the Nats in order, but Scherzer gave up a single to Paul Goldschmidt, ending his no-hit bid. He then struck out Ozuna and got Yadier Molina to ground into a double play, ending the inning. In 7 scoreless innings, Scherzer struck out 11 while giving up 1 hit and 2 walks.

In the top of the eighth, Matt Adams got a one-out pinch-hit single, and Turner followed with another single. Eaton then doubled, driving in two runs and increasing the Nats’ lead to 3 to 0. Wainwright was pulled after 7-1/3 innings and had struck out 11 and given up 3 runs on 7 hits and 1 (intentional) walk.

Doolittle pitched the bottom of the eighth. He struck out Matt Carpenter, then Eaton made a leaping catch of a hard-hit ball from Edman. With two outs, Doolittle gave up a single to Paul DeJong. Then Martínez hit a line drive to center that Taylor misplayed, allowing the Cardinal to score their first run of the series. Doolittle retired Dexter Fowler to get out of the inning.

In the bottom of the ninth, Patrick Corbin came in for a lefty-lefty match-up and got Wong to ground out. Then Hudson retired Goldschmidt and Ozuna, and the Nats won 3 to 1. They left St. Louis leading the series two games to none.

Game 3, Monday October 14. Nationals Park was full and the crowd buzzing as Stephen Strasburg took the mound against Jack Flaherty, the Cardinals ace. The Cardinals threatened first, when Ozuna led off the second with a double. But then Ozuna got caught between second and third when Martínez grounded one back to Strasburg, who ran him down for the fielder’s choice. The Cards weren’t able to take advantage after the base running miscue.

In the top of the third, Rendon made a great play to rob DeJong of a hit. The Nats struck in the bottom of the third. Víctor Robles, returning to the line-up after missing several games with a hamstring injury, led off with a single, and Strasburg bunted him to second. After a Turner strikeout, Eaton singled to drive in Robles. Then Rendon doubled, driving in Eaton. Soto walked, and both runners advanced on a wild pitch. Kendrick then doubled, driving in both runners and putting the Nats up 4 to 0.

The Cardinals pinch hit for Flaherty in the top of the fifth. In the bottom of the fifth, Rendon got a one-out single off Tyler Webb. Brebbia came in to face Kendrick with two outs and Howie doubled, driving in Rendon. Zimmerman followed up with another double, plating Kendrick and putting the Nats up 6 to 0. In the bottom of the sixth, with Brebbia still on the mound, Robles hit a home run to right-center to make it 7 to 0.

Through six innings, Strasburg had held the Cardinals scoreless on 4 hits and no walks, while striking out 9. He was at 90 pitches. The Cardinals led off the top of the seventh with a pair of singles by Martínez and Molina. Strasburg stuck out Edman, then DeJong singled to left. Martínez held up at third until Soto slipped and threw the ball away, which allowed Martínez to score. Strasburg struck out Matt Wieters and Dexter Fowler to get out of the inning. Strasburg’s line for the game was 1 unearned run in 7 innings on 7 hits, no walks, and 12 strikeouts.

In the bottom of the seventh, Kendrick hit a two-out double and Zimmerman drove him in. It was now 8 to 1. Fernando Rodney set down the Cardinals in order in the top of eighth, striking out two. Tanner Rainey finished the game in the ninth, retiring all three batters with two strikeouts. The Nats were now one win away from clinching the pennant and making it to the World Series for the first time in franchise history.

Game 4, Tuesday October 15. It was Ted Lerner‘s 94th birthday. Patrick Corbin was pitching for the Nats, and Dakota Hudson was on the mound for the Cardinals. Corbin struck out the side in the top of the first. Then things started going crazy in the bottom of the inning.

Turner opened the inning with a single to right, and Eaton followed with a double. Rendon hit a sacrifice fly to center to score Turner. Soto then slashed a double into the left field corner, driving in Eaton. Kendrick was intentionally walked, and Zimmerman grounded to third baseman Edman in what should have been the second out, but secon baseman Wong dropped the ball allowing Kendrick to reach second safely and loading the bases. Robles then lifted a short fly into right that had three Cardinals converging but not communicating with each other, and they let it drop in for a hit. With better fielding that would have been the third out, but now it was 3 to 0 with the bases still loaded and one out. Gomes laced a single past the shortstop into left field, plating two more runs. Wainwright came in to relieve Dakota Hudson, and Corbin sacrificed to advance Robles and Gomes to second and third. Then Turner hit another single, driving in two more runs. After one inning the Nats led 7 to 0.

That was it for Nats scoring, as the Cardinals’ bullpen limited the Nats to 3 singles and a walk the rest of the night. Meanwhile Corbin was dealing in the early innings. By the time he recorded his eleventh out, with two outs in the bottom of the fourth, he had struck out 9 while giving up only a single and a walk. The next batter, Molina, however, took Corbin deep and made it 7 to 1.

In the fifth inning, perhaps Corbin was tiring or the Cardinal batters were getting used to his repertoire. Harrison Bader led off with a walk, and Wong singled him to third.  Fowler, pinch hitting, drew another walk and the bases were loaded with no outs. Edman grounded out, driving in a run and advancing the other runners to second and third. Martínez then doubled, driving in two more runs and narrowing the Nats’ lead to 7–4. Corbin struck out Goldschmidt and Ozuna to get out of the inning, but the game was now a lot tighter.

Rainey pitched the sixth and set down all three batters. Doolittle retired the side in the seventh on 9 pitches. He came back in the eighth and retired Martínez and Goldschmidt, but gave up a single to Ozuna. It was time for Daniel Hudson to try to get the last 4 outs.

First Hudson had to get himself out of some trouble, as he hit Molina then walked DeJong, loading the bases with two outs. He managed to get out of the jam without giving up a run, though, when Carpenter grounded out. In the ninth Hudson set down the side in order, with the final out coming on a fly ball to center that was caught by Robles. The Nats won the game 7 to 4 and swept the series.

The series MVP award went to Howie Kendrick, who led the team in runs, runs-batted-in, and extra-base hits (with 4 of each). The Nationals starters as a group were outstanding. The Cardinals hit .141 against the Nats starters, the lowest average ever allowed by a starting rotation in a best-of-seven postseason series. And the bullpen was excellent too, allowing only a single run in 9-1/3 innings of work. Many players contributed to an outstanding series.

 

 

 

 

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