Washington Nationals close out Cardinals with one very big inning

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 15: Sean Doolittle #63 of the Washington Nationals celebrates winning game four and the National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park on October 15, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 15: Sean Doolittle #63 of the Washington Nationals celebrates winning game four and the National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park on October 15, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /
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The Washington Nationals bury the St. Louis Cardinals early to clinch the National League pennant.

The St. Louis Cardinals outplayed the Washington Nationals for eight of the nine innings Tuesday night. But in that one exceptional inning, the Nationals buried the Cardinals’ NLCS hopes, allowing Nats fans to make plans for the city’s first World Series in 86 years and the franchise’s first-ever.

The final 7-4 score completed a four-game sweep by the Nats in which Washington out-scored the Cardinals 20-6.

Almost everything you need to know about this game – and really this entire series – was encapsulated in the first inning. In the top half, Nationals starter Patrick Corbin fanned Tommy Edman on a riding fastball, got Jose Martinez to chase a wide sinker, then got Paul Goldschmidt to do the same thing.

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In the bottom half, Trea Turner drove a belt-high Dakota Hudson up the middle for a base hit, then Adam Eaton belted the first pitch he saw – a gut-level sinker, into right-center — for a double. Anthony Rendon drove an outside slider deep enough into the outfield to score Turner, then Juan Soto took a thigh-high sinker into the left-field corner, scoring Eaton.

The Cardinals not only didn’t hit or pitch in that first inning, they didn’t field either. After Hudson intentionally walked Howie Kendrick to set up a potential inning-ending double play, Ryan Zimmerman sent a rocket toward third base that Edman made a diving stop of. But Wong clanked Edman’s throw to second, his error loading the bases. Victor Robles followed with a lazy fly ball that Wong and right fielder Martinez converged on, but which both allowed to fall between them. That sent Soto across with a third run.

After Robles singled to score Kendrick and Yan Gomes followed with a two-RBI single, Cardinals manager Mike Shildt pulled the plug on Hudson and summoned veteran Adam Wainwright to get the inning’s final two outs. Wainwright did, but not until his teammates abused the concept of defense one more time. Turner dropped a fly ball into left that Ozuna played sufficiently languidly to let it fall, scoring Robles and Gomes with the inning’s sixth and seventh runs.

The remainder of the game amounted to an extended cocktail party for the Washington Nationals and their fans interrupted occasionally by spasmodic Cardinal comeback efforts. The Cardinal bullpen, statistically the league’s best, shut out Washington on just four hits the rest of the way.

Corbin, too, was strong…for a while, striking out a dozen of the 22 batters he faced. He weakened momentarily in the fourth, slipping Yadier Molina a sinker in the middle of the plate that Molina deposited in the first row in center field.

Then in the fifth, Corbin wobbled more forcefully. Two walks and a base hit preceded Jose Martinez’ double, the Cardinals adding three runs to move to that final 7-4 score.

Once the Nats survived that mid-game lapse, the final four innings constituted an extended flirtation with the kinds of crushing disappointments that Nats fans have known only too well in recent years. Corbin faced down Paul Goldschmidt and Marcel Ozuna with one out and Martinez at second to conclude the fifth.

Then in the eighth, St. Louis loaded the bases with two out and brought pinch hitter Matt Carpenter to the plate against Nats closer Daniel Hudson representing the go-ahead run. Hudson got him to ground to Brian Dozier at second for the inning’s final out.

The ninth was uneventful by comparison, Hudson getting Edman on a routine fly to center for the final out.

The Nationals now await the winner of the Astros-Yankees series. They could have quite a wait since the Astros lead 2-1 with rain in the forecast for Wednesday. The first World Series game is scheduled to be played next Tuesday, Oct. 22, at the home of the American League champions.

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Washington Nationals fans will be content to wait. No Washington team has played a World Series game since 1933 when the Senators lost to the New York Giants in five games. The only Washington team to actually win a World Series was the 1924 club, which defeated the Giants in a legendary seven-game series that ended in the 12th inning of the decisive game.