ST. LOUIS - The first two innings of this game have been an exact replica of the first two innings yesterday.
Only this time, it's the Cardinals with the wild left-handed starter with a pitch count over 50 and the Nationals missing the chance to put their opponent in a big early hole.
Jordan Zimmermann got the Nats on the board in the second inning today, dropping a single into right field off Jamie Garcia after Zimmermann had faked a bunt and pulled the bat back.
Ian Desmond, who was on second, ran through third base coach Bo Porter's stop sign and benefited from a delayed throw from Cardinals right fielder Carlos Beltran. Desmond flopped headfirst into home plate, giving the Nats a 1-0 lead.
It looked like Beltran might have seen Porter throw up a stop sign, and he held the ball for a split second before firing home. That delay was crucial, and allowed Desmond to slide in ahead of the throw to the plate.
The Nats couldn't do any more damage from there, however, as Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper were retired, leaving two runners on base.
Garcia threw 51 pitches over the first two innings. Gio Gonzalez threw 55 in that same span yesterday. Both lefties were able to avoid major damage, however.
Update: As good as Zimmermann looked in the first inning, when he set down the Cardinals in order on just 13 pitches, he looked that off in the second inning, when he allowed four runs on five hits.
The Cardinals have a 4-1 lead after two thanks to RBIs from David Freese, Daniel Descalso, Skip Shumaker and Jon Jay.
The most interesting storyline for now, however, is Cardinals manager Mike Matheny's decision to pull Garcia for a pinch-hitter in the second. He brought on Schumaker with two on and one out, and the veteran infielder drove in a run on a groundout to short.
Matheny will now need to get seven innings from his bullpen. He'll go to Lance Lynn, a guy who was a starter for much of the season, here in the third.
It's a bold move, one you'd only see in the postseason.
Update II: Zimmermann's day is done a lot earlier than he would've hoped.
The righty allowed five runs on seven hits over three innings, and has been pulled for a pinch-hitter in the top of the fourth inning. This matches the shortest outing of his career.
Combining the stat lines of Zimmermann and Gonzalez, Nationals starters have worked eight innings in this series, allowing seven runs on eight hits with seven walks.
The Nationals have needed three pitchers to get through four innings, have made mental mistakes and have played less than stellar defense. Yet they're still very much in this game with plenty of time to crawl their way closer.
Update IV: Baseball can be a funny game sometimes. If Zimmerman's scorching line drive finds a hole in the outfield, the Nationals would have cut the Cardinals lead to 8-5 and the tying run would have been in the on-deck circle with none out. Instead, It's just an 8-4 game midway through the seventh.
Zimmerman ripped a ball right at left fielder Matt Holliday, allowing Jayson Werth to score on a sac fly. Bryce Harper tried to tag up on the play and move to third after Holliday's atrocious throw, but he was cut down on a 7-4-6 putout, leaving the bases empty with two outs.
Harper's hustle makes him a ton of fun to watch and puts great pressure on the defense. But when you trail by four runs, you cannot make an out on the bases. It's a rookie mistake, and one which helped put the breaks on what could have been a big inning.