Rookies in the postseason, the Washington Nationals played like poised veterans.
The Nationals escaped a bases-loaded jam in the seventh inning, Tyler Moore blooped a two-out, two-run single in the eighth and Washington beat the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals 3-2 Sunday in St. Louis in an N.L. playoff opener.
They have just four players with postseason experience on the roster. But they have the lead.
“Not many people have probably watched too many Nationals games, but we have a great starting rotation and a great bullpen,” said Ian Desmond, who singled for his third hit in the go-ahead rally. “They keep us in the ballgame and some timely hits from this kid, and the rest of the guys coming off the bench, that’s really been the formula.”
The Nationals, who had never come close to making the playoffs since moving from Montreal for the 2005 season, overcame a wild start by 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez. They limited the Cardinals to just three hits.
“All the credit in the world goes to the bullpen,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve been saying it all year. The reason why we’ve been so successful is these guys come in and shut it down.”
Rookie reliever Ryan Mattheus needed just two pitches to bail out the Nationals in the seventh with St. Louis ahead 2-1. Moore, another rookie, put them ahead soon after that, Tyler Clippard worked around an error in the eighth and Drew Storen saved it with a 1-2-3 ninth.
The N.L. East champion Nationals led the majors with 98 wins this season, and brought postseason baseball to Washington for the first time since 1933. The Nats go for a 2-0 series lead today when Jordan Zimmermann opposes Jaime Garcia.
“This team is not hanging our heads,” St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright said. “We can come back and win this easily.”
The Cardinals made it to the best-of-five division series by beating Atlanta in the wild-card matchup Friday. But St. Louis wasted a 10-strikeout gem by Wainwright, failing to capitalize enough on Gonzalez’s career high-tying seven walks and frustrating its towel-waving fans.
Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth robbed Daniel Descalso of a two-run homer with a leaping catch to keep it at 2-1 in the sixth. Descalso had a fielding gem of his own in the seventh, ranging far to his left to glove Bryce Harper’s grounder and then throwing him out by a few steps.
Reds 9, Giants 0
Bronson Arroyo retired his first 14 batters and delivered a gem a day after 19-game winner Johnny Cueto went down with a back injury, and the Cincinnati Reds beat the San Francisco Giants 9-0 in San Francisco to head home with a 2-0 division series lead.
A pair of Ryans provided the big hits. Ryan Ludwick homered leading off the second inning for his first career playoff clout and Ryan Hanigan hit a two-run single in the fourth and a late RBI single. Jay Bruce added a two-run double and Joey Votto had three hits.
Former San Francisco skipper Dusty Baker came into his old stomping grounds and left with two commanding victories 10 years after managing the Giants within six outs of a World Series title.
The Giants were handed their worst playoff shutout in franchise history.
The Reds will try for their first postseason sweep since beating the Dodgers in the first round in 1995. Cincinnati got swept in the N.L. championship series that year by Atlanta to start what became a seven-game postseason losing streak before Saturday’s win.