Cardinals Beat Strasburg to Complete Sweep in Washington

USA TODAY Sports

After a three-game sweep of the host Nationals, El Birdos sit alone atop the National League Central standings.

On Wednesday, the Cardinals ended their 15th road game out of their first 21 contests as the victors. Facing righthanded phenom Steven Strasburg, the Redbirds struck early against the Nationals. After a solid start by southpaw Jaime Garcia, the St. Louis bullpen was able to hold off Washington and push the Cardinals to 13-8 on the season and ensure the day would end with them in sole possession of first place.

Matt Carpenter, who played third base this game, led things off with an unusual double. His excuse-me swing made just enough contact with a 96 mph Strasburg fastball to float the ball down the left field line, where it landed just fair. Carpenter foolishly challenged Bryce Harper's rocket arm and was safe at second only because Nats second baseman Danny Espinosa had the ball pop out of his mitt when applying the tag. Such is baseball.

Strasburg struck out first baseman Allen Craig on a nasty changeup that came in as hard as a Jeff Suppan "fast" ball. Matt Holliday followed the Craig K by lifting a fliner t right for a single that pushed Carpenter to third. Faced with runners on the corners, Strasburg walked Carlos Beltran on five pitches. Yadier Molina dug in with the bases juiced and lifted a a soft fliner down the right-field line that landed fair and plated his team's third baseman and left fielder. Unlike Carpenter, Yadi wisely chose not to push for two.

Thus, the Cards had runners at the corners again with Daniel Descalso at the bat. Descalso regularly takes horribly defensive swings and so he did against one of the league's premiere starters. Dirty Dan uncoiled a swing that was reminiscent of the No. 9 hitter in Little League. So far behind Strasburg's offering was he that the ball chopped down the third base line where it was fielded by Anthony Rendon who uncorked a throw that pulled Esponsa off second, allowing Beltran to score and Molina to reach second safely. The official scorer ruled the play an "E-5."

The top of the first inning ended with Shane Robinson's at-bat. The center fielder grounded hard to Rendon, who redeemed himself if only partly, by stepping on third for the force and firing to first base for the double play. The Cardinals led 3-0 after the first three outs of the game. They would rap just two more hits against Strasburg over the next six innings he would pitch.

After a 1-2-3 first for Garcia, Carpenter continued his poor baserunning. After ripping a double off the left-center wall that bounced just beyond the reach of a leaping Denard Span, Carpenter entertained notions of a triple but stumbled and was tagged for the third out as he attempted his way back to second. Why he even considered an attempt for third is beyond this writer, for one should never make the last out of an inning at that base. An extension of this baseball truism necessarily seems to be, "Never foolishly entertain notions of a triple so that you stumble rounding second and then make the inning's third out while attempting to retreat back to the keystone."

Garcia was locked in through five innings, allowing just two hits. In the bottom of the sixth, Strasburg and Span grounded balls up the middle for back-to-back singles. A nibber by Jayson Werth pushed them to second and third with one out. Strasburg scored on a Harper groundout to Descalso. After Garcia walked Tyler Moore, manager Mike Matheny called upon Joe Kelly to put out the runners-on-the-corners-with-two-outs fire. Kelly threw six straight speedballs between 95 and 98 mph and then struck out Ian Desmond with a breaking ball. Thus ended the Nats' threat.

Jon Jay pinch-hit for Kelly to lead off the eighth and singled. Matheny called for, and Carpenter executed, a hit-and-run that placed runners at the corners with no outs. Craig's hot shot up the middle was knocked down by reliever Drew Storen, who then had Jay in no-man's land between third and home. To his credit, Jay stayed in a pickle long enough for Carpenter to advance to third and Craig to second, but eventually made the first out of the inning 15 feet from the plate.

Holliday dug in and executed a picture perfect Baltimore chop. With such violence did Holliday swing that the chopped ball hung up in the District's afternoon air long enough to score Carpenter, push Craig to third, and allow the slugger reach first without a throw. A Beltran K and Molina groundout caused the top half of the inning to end without another Cardinal crossing home. St. Louis took a 4-1 lead into the bottom of the eighth.

Werth greeted Trevor Rosenthal with a dinger that landed in the bullpen beyond the left-field wall. Werth's homer cut the St. Louis lead to two. Rosie then walked Harper but was able to notch three outs without another Washingtonian scoring. The Cardinals did not to score in the visitors' half of ninth. Enter Mujica. A grounder to first, pop out to right, and groundout to short ended the inning, game, series, and sweep. Garcia received the pitching "win" and Mujica the save.

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