ST. LOUIS - Where to begin?
The Nationals took us all on a ride this afternoon, battling their way to a 3-2 win over the Cardinals in Game 1 of the best-of-five National League Division Series, despite seven walks from starter Gio Gonzalez, 10 runners left on base, two errors and 13 strikeouts as an offense.
This game was bizarre as could be. It all started with Gonzalez, who somehow allowed only one hit despite completely lacking control of his fastball. The Nationals ace had perhaps his sloppiest game of the year, testing manager Davey Johnson's patience.
"Well, we talked about it early, and I said a couple of times he's tested me where he threw 50 pitches the first two innings and settled down," Johnson said. "This was a real test on a big stage. I resisted the temptation, I was about one hitter away from getting (Craig) Stammen ready, and he got out of it and pitched pretty good until he got a little wild there at the end. But he kept us in there, and that's what your ace does."
As off his game as Gonzalez was, he somehow allowed just two runs over five innings. He left with the Nats trailing by just a run. Stammen worked a clean sixth inning, but got into major trouble in the seventh, loading the bases with none out. Johnson brought in Ryan Mattheus, and in his first career playoff appearance, Mattheus got a force out at home on the first pitch he threw, and then induced a 6-4-3 double play off the bat of Matt Holliday on his next pitch.
Just like that, the threat was over.
"I've been second-guessing myself there, because I should have got to Mattheus one hitter earlier, but I got him up after one hitter got on," Johnson said. "And then he was ready for Holliday. I have a lot of confidence in Stammen. He's also my lucky horseshoe pitcher. If I leave him in there, we usually score two the next inning. But so is Mattheus. But Holliday, I looked to (Mattheus) and I said, we need a couple groundballs here to get out of this, and he did it."
The job Mattheus did, keeping the score at 2-1, immediately paid dividends in the top of the eighth. After Michael Morse reached on an error, Ian Desmond singled to right, moving Morse to third. A Danny Espinosa sacrifice bunt moved Desmond to scoring position, and after a managerial back-and-forth which saw Cardinals skipper Mike Matheny bring in lefty Marc Rzepczynski to face pinch-hitter Chad Tracy, Johnson turned to rookie Tyler Moore to bat for Tracy.
The result was a two-out, two-run, go-ahead single, which ended up being the game-winner.
"Oh, my goodness," Johnson said, when asked about the job Moore has done this season. "It's one thing if you're playing your normal position, because you're used to that. But it's another thing when you're worried about being a defensive liability and still having to be productive offensively. That's been our success this year. These guys have done a great job filling in.
"He's got a great stroke. He's short through the ball. He's got a great future."