- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 11, 2012

The visitors’ clubhouse at Nationals Park was a quiet place Thursday night.

The energy of the St. Louis Cardinals’ 8-0 win the night before had vanished as catcher Yadier Molina bristled past reporters toward the exit. The few players standing at their lockers were serious and stern. Beats from familiar rap tunes echoed in the background.

Minutes earlier, the stadium outside those clubhouse walls had erupted as Jayson Werth hit a walk-off home run on the thirteenth pitch in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Washington Nationals a 2-1 win and knot the National League Division Series at 2-2.

It was the toughest loss imaginable for the reigning World Series champion Cardinals, who were perhaps one or two big hits away from advancing to the National League Championship Series for the second consecutive year.

“You don’t want to end a game like that, for us, but it’s part of the game,” outfielder Carlos Beltran said. “Tomorrow is going to be the biggest game for them and for us. They’re having the best pitcher for them [Nationals lefty Gio Gonzalez[, we have [Adam] Wainwright, who has a lot of experience in these types of situations. So we feel confident.”

If there’s one thing to be said about the Cardinals, it’s that they’ve definitely been in bigger holes than this. Down 7-5 in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, for example, St. Louis third baseman David Freese walked to the plate with two on, two out and the season on his shoulders. He tripled to deep right field and tied the game, and the Cardinals went on to win the series the following day.

While Washington’s roster is littered with rookies and playoff newcomers, St. Louis is as savvy as they come. Beltran, Molina, outfielder Matt Holliday and company have shown poise throughout the postseason. Even rookie shortstop Pete Kozma, who drew three walks Thursday, has shown confidence beyond his years.

“When you speak of experience, obviously it helps,” first baseman Allen Craig said. “But this year’s a new year and we’re going to play like a team and find a way to do it. We can’t always rely on what we did last year. There’s definitely some things that we can look back on tomorrow, but tomorrow’s a new day and we’ve got to get it done tomorrow.”

Added Freese: “[The Nationals] aren’t fazed. At all. And neither are we. It’s just going to be like how it was a year ago.”

Heartbreak like Thursday’s has been familiar for the Cardinals all season. Of their 74 losses this year, 26 came in one-run ball games. Twelve were in extra innings. The feeling they experienced in the clubhouse Thursday night was nothing new.

“I think that’s really been used to develop the character of this team and the resiliency,” manager Mike Matheny said. “These guys realize that we’ve got an opportunity to come back and play another game. They do shed it pretty quick.”

Nobody wants to forget the night more than Cardinals pitcher Lance Lynn, whose 3-2 fastball sailed into the left field seats on the final pitch of the game and 13th pitch of the at-bat. He dressed very slowly after the game before being mobbed by reporters at his locker. A string of questions were answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” When asked about the at-bat, Lynn quipped, “3-2 heater. He beat me.”

“It may have been my best pitch and he blew out of the ballpark,” he said after a while. “You tip your cap to him and get ready to play tomorrow.”

Tomorrow. That’s what nearly every person in the Cardinals’ clubhouse talked about after their series-tying loss. With Werth’s home run behind them and their season on the line, tomorrow is all St. Louis cares to think about.

“This is baseball,” Lynn continued. “You forget about it the next day when you go back out there.”



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