Gonzalez settles down, Wainwright locks in (Mattheus pulls a magic act)

ST. LOUIS - In Gio Gonzalez’s first two innings, he threw 55 pitches, only 27 for strikes. He walked five and allowed two runs.

Over his next two innings of work, Gonzalez threw 28 pitches, 19 for strikes.

He was able to settle down, get ahead in the count and pound the strike zone. Gonzalez faced the minimum over his third and fourth innings of work, allowing only a David Freese groundball single through the hole, which was quickly erased by a nicely turned 6-4-3 double play.

Gonzalez is probably benefiting from the shadows which have crept onto the field, making it tough for hitters to see, but he’ll take the results regardless.

If Gonzalez is benefiting from the shadows, so is his counterpart, Adam Wainwright.

Wainwright has struck out nine Nationals hitters through five innings, and eight of those Ks have been via his dazzling curveball.

He’s allowed just one run through five innings, scattering five hits. His fastball has been hit fairly hard, but the curve has just been nasty, and he’s used it as his two-strike pitch to neutralize the Nationals’ bats.

I wonder whether the toughest part of the shadows is being able to recognize the break on off-speed pitches. Hitters appear to be able to see the ball OK, but I’d imagine spotting the seams and differentiating between fastballs and breaking balls is tough with the shadows present.

Adam LaRoche said yesterday that when Wainwright has his good curve, he’s tough to hit. The curve has been on today, and so Wainwright has been pretty darn good.

Update: Gonzalez worked into a heap of trouble in the fifth, walking Jon Jay and Carlos Beltran with one out, but he got Matt Holliday to strike out swinging and induced a pop-up to first off the bat of Allen Craig.

The Nationals’ ace walked seven batters, allowed just a single hit, threw 110 pitches (just 59 for strikes) and surrendered two runs.

It’s an incredibly bizarre stat line, and Gonzalez has to be furious with himself right now that he was so ineffective at times. And yet, the Nationals trail just 2-1 as he walked off the mound after five innings of work.

Look for Craig Stammen to work the sixth for the Nats.

Update II: Jayson Werth left the bases loaded in the second inning, when he grounded out to short to end the inning. He then left them loaded again in the sixth, striking out swinging to strand three more runners.

Werth will stew about both of those at-bats, but he bounced back to make a huge catch in the bottom of the sixth, leaping at the wall in right to rob Daniel Descalso of what would have been a two-run homer. Battling the sun, Werth went back on the ball, found the wall with his hand and jumped at the perfect time, having the ball stick into the palm of his glove.

That play helped Stammen escape the sixth inning unharmed. It’s still a 2-1 Cardinals lead as we go to the seventh.

The Nats have had their chances offensively today, but they’ve gone just 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position and have stranded nine runners. Six of those fall on Werth.

Update III: Ryan Mattheus’ first career postseason appearance could not have gone any better. Literally.

Mattheus is the first pitcher in postseason history to pitch one inning and throw just two pitches. He came into a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the seventh inning, got Allen Craig to ground into a 6-2 force out at the plate, then got Yadier Molina to ground into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.

What a tremendous effort from Mattheus, who let out a scream as soon as the double play was completed and got high-fives all around once he got back to the dugout.

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