The Cards Stun The Nats, 12-4

During the regular season, this would have been one of those forgettable games — with a young pitcher having an off day, and the Nationals hoping to bounce back from a poor performance. But in the playoffs, a 12-4 loss at the hands of a rejuvenated line-up is a sign of a knock-down series where both teams will fight to the very last. And the loser will go home.

The Cardinals, the best hitting team in the N.L., banged out thirteen hits, including homes runs from Allen Craig, Daniel Descalso and Carlos Beltran, and notched a must-win victory at Busch Stadium in St. Louis to knot their five game series against the Nationals in the N.L.D.S. at one game each.

The Cardinals victimized seven Nationals pitchers while rolling to victory, including young starter Jordan Zimmermann, who lasted only three innings while giving up seven hits and five earned runs — one of his worst outings of the year. “It’s definitely tough. I wanted to go out there and go deep into the game and try to get out of here with two wins. I didn’t do my part,” Zimmermann said of the loss.

This was, by all measures, a debacle: Zimmermann’s breakdown is unusual for him, except when he pitches against the Cardinals. The young Auburndale ace has a snappy ERA against the rest of the National League, but when it comes to St. Louis, he seems to freeze up. The Post’s Tom Boswell points to his his 9.76 ERA against the Redbirds in his six career starts against them.

Washington’s relievers, a normally steady presence during the regular season, were also ineffective on Monday. Craig Stammen, Christian Garcia, Michael Gonzalez, Ryan Mattheus, Sean Burnett and Tom Gorzelanny combined to give up six hits and six earned runs in just five innings of work.

“We wanted to come out and make a statement and tie this up before we went to D.C.,” said Cardinals’ infielder Daniel Descalso, who had two RBIs in the victory. “We came out and did exactly what we wanted to today.”

If there was good news in the loss, it was that the Nationals showed they were capable of putting their own numbers on the board, modest though they might have been. Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche hit back-to-backers in the 5th inning off of Lance Lynn and the Nationals pounded out ten hits, but it simply wasn’t good enough. The D.C. Nine were never in the game.

A silver lining? The ever optimistic Jayson Werth points out that the Nats are coming home after earning a split on the road. “You work all season to get home-field advantage. And we got it,” he said. “We’re going home with the series tied, and we get a chance to play in front of our fans, and that’s what it’s all about.” The Nationals will send Edwin Jackson to the mound in D.C. on Wednesday.

Certainly that’s good news. But the bad news is, that when the Nats take the field for game three at Nationals Park, they’ll look across the field into the third base dugout and see the same team that they saw on Monday. “I hope I never see this offense again,” Davey Johnson said in talking about the Cardinals explosion. That’s too bad: because the fear is that he just might.

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