- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 21, 2011

ST. LOUIS | In the first game of the Nationals’ day-night doubleheader with the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday they scratched, clawed and aggressively ran their way to a seven-run lead. As they have in so many of their nine victories this season, the Nationals got just enough offense to survive.

In the nightcap, Washington showed exactly why that formula can also often serve to leave it just short of a victory. On a night when Jordan Zimmermann didn’t have the same control and precision he’s shown in his first three starts, the Nationals generated just five hits in support of the right-hander and fell 5-3 to split the doubleheader. The loss ended their winning streak at four games and set up a series’ rubber match Thursday.

After a six-run explosion in the third inning keyed an 8-6 win in the opener, the Nationals were held to just eight hits over their next 15 innings and were stymied by Jaime Garcia for much of the nightcap.

“This is the big leagues,” said Jerry Hairston Jr., one of only four Nationals to get a hit in the second game. “You’re going to run into guys that are good. We feel we have a good lineup, and we just want to make sure we … find a way to move guys over, get them in and play good baseball. That’s our focus.”

Ironically, Hairston reached base on more of a fluke than anything, calling for time as Garcia was in his windup and stepping in with just enough time to put a swing on a fastball that rocketed up the middle.

“I don’t believe in luck,” Hairston said, “but it was just one of those things where it wasn’t really skill, either. (I was) just trying to put the ball in play hard and it found a hole.”

Danny Espinosa was able to bring Hairston in two batters later with for his 15th RBI of the season, and Rick Ankiel then drove in Espinosa with his second hit of the night to tie the game at 3, but the Nationals’ best scoring threat then promptly ended with a Jayson Werth ground out.

Unfortunately for the Nationals, that was par for the course for the middle of their lineup in the second game. Werth, Adam LaRoche and Wilson Ramos were a combined 0-for-10 and that’s not including left fielder Michael Morse’s 0-for-4 in the sixth spot though Werth did drive in the Nationals’ first run on a sacrifice groundout, and LaRoche walked twice.

Werth is hitting .166 since April 9 (6-for-36). But he was an integral part of the victory in Game 1, going 2-for-4 with aggressive base running. After the game, he was planted in front of the computers in the clubhouse, intently watching video.

As much as the Nationals can give a tip of the cap to Garcia, they chased him after five innings and had just two base runners in the game’s final four innings against St. Louis’ bullpen. As a team, Washington is batting .226.

It didn’t matter that with a short bullpen Zimmermann, who allowed five earned runs Wednesday after allowing five earned runs total in his first three starts, was able to weather the storm somewhat and at least get the Nationals to the seventh inning. Nor did it matter that Collin Balester, making his first major league appearance in 2011, followed Zimmermann with two scoreless innings of relief.

It also went for naught that, with two outs in the ninth inning, Ian Desmond reached base and brought the tying run to the plate in Laynce Nix, who already had one home run on the afternoon.

Ultimately, their offense failed them.

“We were battling,” said Nationals manager Jim Riggleman. “I’m proud of the way our guys kept us in the game… We had our chances. We had a slugger at the plate with the tying run at the end of the game and just wasn’t to be. Garcia was tough, but they gave us a couple of chances.”