The Washington Nationals came into the second postseason playoff game in D.C. in nearly 80 years needing a win to stay alive in the NLDS.
St. Louis was looking to continue it's ridiculous October success and be the second team to advance to the championship round.
On the mound for the Nats was Ross Detwiler, who took Stephen Strasburg's spot in the rotation. He was brilliant over six innings, easing some of the pain from Strasburg being shut down after the regular season.
Countering was a fringe Cy Young candidate this season in the Cards' Kyle Lohse, who also looked fantastic, save for one bad pitch to Adam LaRoche that ended up over the center-field wall.
In the end, the Nationals pulled it out on the huge walk-off homer by Jayson Werth and sent this series to a do-or-die Game 5 on Friday.
Here is how Game 4 in D.C. graded out:
St. Louis Cardinals
Kyle Lohse: A
Line: 7 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 K
As I wrote on the opening slide, it was really a matter of bad location on one pitch to Adam LaRoche which kept Lohse from seven innings of one-hit, shutout baseball. He continued to throw incredibly well Thursday, racking up five strikeouts against just one walk and the two hits. He gave his offense a chance to win this game late.
Mitchell Boggs: A-
Line: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 1 HBP, 1 K
Boggs came in and retired the first two batters on just four pitches. Then, after going 3-2 on No. 8 hitter Kurt Suzuki, he walked him to bring up pinch-hitter Chad Tracy. Boggs got a little wild with the runner on, but eventually got Tracy swinging to take a 1-1 tie to the ninth.
Lance Lynn: C+
Line: 1 Batter, 1 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 K
Lynn gave up the walk-off solo home run to Jayson Werth in the bottom of the ninth to essentially lose the game, 2-1. That being said, it was a 12-pitch at-bat against a guy who had 13 career postseason home runs coming into the game. Lynn threw one bad pitch out of 12 and was burned for it, but most of the credit has to go to Werth in that at-bat.
Ross Detwiler: A
Line: 6 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 2 K
He allowed four baserunners in six innings and only struck out two, but the one run that crossed the plate with Detwiler on the bump was unearned. Nobody had more pressure on him today than Detwiler, with his team against the wall and him replacing Strasburg. Good location and a good mix of off-speed pitches kept the dangerous Cardinals lineup guessing all day.
Jordan Zimmermann: A+
Line: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K
Wow. Zimmermann made his first ever major-league appearance out of the bullpen in the seventh inning and set down Pete Kozma, Lohse and Jon Jay on strikeouts. And it wasn't even close. He absolutely blew them all away. Twelve pitches, nine strikes, three strikeouts—enough said.
Tyler Clippard: A
Line: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K
Clippard came in to face the heart of the Cardinals' order in the eighth and struck out the side. Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina were all victims, spread out around an Allen Craig walk.
Drew Storen: A-
Line: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K
Storen looked a little bit more wild than his previous two counterparts, but that didn't prevent him from posting a solid inning. And yes, you are reading this correctly. Zimmermann, Clippard and Storen did get eight straight outs by fanning Cardinals batters in the seventh, eighth and ninth.
St. Louis Cardinals
CF Jon Jay (0-4)
RF Carlos Beltran (0-3, RBI)
LF Matt Holliday (0-4)
1B Allen Craig (2-3)
C Yadier Molina (0-4)
3B David Freese (1-3)
2B Daniel Descalso (0-4)
SS Pete Kozma (0-1, 3 BB, 1 R)
What can you say? Anytime a lineup this stacked with power is held to three hits and six baserunners in nine innings, you give props to the opposing pitching staff. Craig had a nice game, adding to his clutch postseason resume. Beltran did what Beltran does and drove in a run with a sac fly, but there were multiple times that the big hitters in this lineup failed to come through with hits to move runners along. Jay and Holliday, specifically, both struck out twice and Descalso left four men on base.
RF Jayson Werth (1-4, HR)
CF Bryce Harper (0-3)
3B Ryan Zimmerman (1-3)
1B Adam LaRoche (1-2, BB, HR)
LF Michael Morse (0-3)
SS Ian Desmond (0-3)
2B Danny Espinosa (0-3)
C Kurt Suzuki (0-2, BB)
Thank goodness for the two solo homers. Not only could the Nats have lost this game and the series, but they might have been held to one measly little single by Zimmerman in an elimination game. Aside from two walks and that single, the Nationals didn't produce anything offensively until the ninth inning. Though they ended up pulling this one out with the walk-off by Werth, it was only their third hit of the game. Props for hitting when it counts, but that was complete torture for the first eight innings in D.C.
There wasn't much to question today in Matheny's decision making. He used Boggs to get to the ninth inning after seven stellar frames from his starter, Lohse. He inserted Lynn into the game to save closer Jason Motte to potentially finish if need be. The only time Cardinals fans might have had something to question him on was in the top of the seventh, when Lohse's turn in the lineup came up and he stayed in the game, striking out against Zimmermann.
It didn't hurt them, though you never know what a pinch-hitter could have done in that spot. In the next inning, Lohse got a huge double-play ball from Michael Morse to get out of the inning. Yes, Lynn ended up giving up the walk-off homer to Werth leading off the ninth, but it was an epic 12-pitch battle that Werth just ended up winning. That decision to put Lynn in is not something you blame the manager for, especially the way his bullpen had been throwing in this series.
Davey Johnson kind of gets an "A" by default for this game. He gets major brownie points for putting his confidence in the young starter Detwiler and playing his bullpen right. You have to love the move to bring in Zimmermann to transition from the seventh inning to the real relievers, especially when it pays off with three dominant strikeouts.
He left his lineup intact for most of the game, using Steve Lombardozzi and Chad Tracy as pinch-hitters. But he relied on two solo homers from his power hitters to win this game and move to a winner-take-all contest tomorrow. Johnson managed this game as soundly as possible.
St. Louis Cardinals: B-
In a game that saw the Nationals' pitching staff absolutely mute the Cards' lineup, you have to question where the big hits—which have become par for the course in St. Louis—were Thursday night. Aside from a sacrifice fly from Beltran and three walks from the rookie Kozma, the offense was nowhere to be found. No matter the opponent, it takes a couple of small rallies to win a postseason baseball game.
On the flip side, Lohse and Boggs looked great in the first eight innings. Even Lynn looked good on the first 11 pitches of the eventual game-winning at-bat by Werth. He hung a pitch that Werth took advantage of, but overall, the Cardinals' pitching staff was incredible, holding the Nationals to just three hits.
Washington Nationals: B
The Nationals were just a little bit better on offense, as two of their three hits left the yard. That made up for the difference in this game, and thank goodness it did. After 79 years of waiting for postseason baseball in the nation's capital, it would have been pretty unimpressive to go out in three games. LaRoche looked the best on offense Thursday, hitting a solo homer and drawing a walk.
Detwiler was incredibly clutch for the Nats, considering he was taking Strasburg's spot in the rotation and needed to pitch a gem to keep his team in contention. He did that and more, racking up six very quality innings of one-hit baseball. The job done by Zimmermann, Clippard and Storen also cannot be discounted, as they combined to strike out eight of the 11 batters they faced in the seventh, eighth and ninth.