It’s hard to argue with the numbers. Over the last eighteen innings, the Nationals have been outscored 20-4 by the St. Louis Cardinals and their pitching has cratered. The latest evidence of the Nationals’ postseason futility came on Wednesday when, with red towels waving all over Nationals Park, the Cardinals overwhelmed the hometowners, 8-0.
The latest victim of the Cardinals’ onslaught was Edwin Jackson, though it’s impossible to pin the second Nats’ loss in this five game playoff series on a single pitcher. The Nationals now face an ignominious elimination at the hands of one of the best hitting teams in baseball, hoping to salvage a single elimination playoff game with a win on Thursday.
As always, and even in the face of this adversity, Nationals’ manager Davey Johnson remained optimistic. He was buoyed by the sold out crowd, fanatical fans that have become the hallmark of the upstart franchise. “We’re not out of this, by a long shot,” he said. “Shoot, I’ve had my back to worse walls than this.”
But optimistic or not, there’s little doubt that, at least so far, the Cardinals are feasting on Nationals’ pitching. The Redbirds slammed out fourteen hits against five Washington pitchers, all of whom were ineffective — with the exception of closer Drew Storen. It all began with starter Edwin Jackson who gave up four earned runs in five innings.
A raucous crowd, watching the first playoff game in Nationals’ history, could not keep the Cardinals off the board, even in the first inning — when an Allen Craig double scored Matt Holliday. Shortstop Peter Kozma followed in the second inning with a home run that scored David Freese and Daniel Descalso. Suddenly it was 4-0.
“I just missed across the plate with a couple of balls that cost me,” Jackson said of his outing. “The Cardinals were coming out and being aggressive. We’ve seen that from the beginning. They are not waiting around for you to get strike one. They coming up getting pitches early in the count.”
But if the Nationals seemed frustrated on the mound, they were just as frustrated at the plate, with Cardinals’ starter Chris Carpenter spinning a solid, though hardly brilliant, outing. The Nationals couldn’t seem to get going, though they had plenty of opportunities — leaving 20 men on base in the game.
Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond credited Carpenter with his solid performance: “He goes out there and competes,” Desmond said. “It’s about winning and losing. It’s not about ‘Was my curveball there?’ Was my sinker there?’ It was about making good pitches and competing. He did that today, and he got the W.” Carpenter was more than good enough, dampening every potential Nationals rally.
The Nationals will send young lefty Ross Detwiler to the mound today in a desperate attempt to tie the series at two games apiece — in the hopes that they can come back tomorrow with Gio Gonzalez and win it all. “These young guys have pitched great all year,” Davey Johnson said of Detwiler and Gonzalez. “We need a couple more good pitched games this series.”
Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Nationals pulled in 45,017 fans for the playoff game, though the crowd looked a good deal larger than that, with standing room only patrons lined up in center field and along the serving areas in both left and right field . . .
The official attendance figures are in for the 2012 campaign, and they look better than just good. The Nationals drew 2,370.794 for the season: good enough for 14th among the 30 major league clubs. That’s ahead of Braves, Reds, Mets, Marlins, D-Backs, Orioles and White Sox, among others . . .
If you don’t believe baseball is here to stay in D.C., you should check out those figures. They’re impressive. But nothing was so impressive as the crowd at Nationals Park yesterday, and there’s a good account of the day in a photo essay over at D.C. Sports Page. Appropriately, the first playoff game in Nationals’ history included a ceremonial first pitch from Frank Robinson . . .
Robinson received a standing ovation from the red clad thousands who packed the Half Street bowl, and gave a wave as he left the field on the arm of Ian Desmond. He deserved the tribute, after leading the club in its first 2005 season at RFK, and gave it its early identity.
“It was quite an honor and very delightful and I enjoyed doing it,” Robinson said of his appearance yesterday. Robinson also paid tribute to Davey Johnson, a former teammate. “I congratulated him on a terrific year,” Robinson told reporters, “and wished him well today and for the future. And he’ll do alright. He’s done alright everywhere he’s been and it’s no surprise here.”
The Nationals have come a long ways since the days of Frank Robinson, though it wasn’t all that long ago. Jose Vidro was at second, Vinny Castilla was a third and Termel Sledge was out in left field. Who’s left? Nobody’s left. RFK sits empty and Nationals Park is filled with screaming hopeful fans . . .
Okay, this isn’t over by a long shot, and Nationals G.M. Mike Rizzo has it right when he cautions fans to not “jump off a bridge” while pointing out that “we’ve won two in a row before.” But if the regular season is a marathon, then the post season is a sprint, and today will be the equivalent of a Usain Bolt game: the Nats need to get a fast start . . .