ST. LOUIS — Game 1 of the National League Division Series represented meatloaf for Washington. There would be no gravy Monday in Game 2.
Instead, it was more like something the dog threw up. It was ugly, repulsive and it stunk.
The St. Louis Cardinals broke out their whipping sticks and clubbed the Nationals into early submission, beginning with starter Jordan Zimmermann. Virtually every other Nats pitcher got a taste of the beat down as St. Louis evened the series with a 12-4 victory that sounds closer than it felt.
If you thought advancing to the next round would be easy as 1-2-3, the idea began evaporating as the Cards strung 1-2-3-4 consecutive hits to open the second inning. St. Louis batters also homered in four of the next six innings, removing any doubt that Monday just was one of those days for Washington's vaunted pitching staff.
Hey, they happen to every team in baseball — just not very often to the Nats. It marked only the seventh time all season that an opponent reached double figures against Washington.
On an ominous note, the Cardinals have accounted for four of those bloodlettings. Perhaps more worrisome, Game 3 starter Edwin Jackson started in one of those bludgeonings by St. Louis. So did Game 4 starter Ross Detwiler, for those who really want to fret.
"I hope I never see this offense again," Nats manager Davey Johnson said. "Their numbers speak for themselves. They have got a fine-hitting ballclub."
It was quite a show for the 45,840 in attendance, who waved their towels and shouted for their beloved Redbirds, maybe for the last time this season. Fans roared during the four-run uprising in the second. They cheered during the parade of home runs that followed, including a pair of mammoth shots by Carlos Beltran. They went ballistic as five of the lineup's top seven batters enjoyed multihit games.
Good thing the sum equaled one loss. That made it easier for the Nats to fly home and be content with a split.
Forget about Game 2. That has to be the mantra for Washington as it prepares to host the next two or three contests at Nationals Park. As poorly as the Nats performed and as badly as they were outscored, they accomplished the main objective in St. Louis.
Consider Monday's outcome a mulligan for the Nats. They certainly earned the right to have a clunker every now and again. Especially the pitching staff, which carried the club for much of the season. The same staff that held the Cards to a total of eight runs in four regular-season victories.
The Cards have a deep, explosive lineup. The Nats aren't too shabby themselves. Sometimes, the guys with the bats get the best of the guys on the mound, and vice-versa. That's just the way it goes. Yes, everything is heightened in the postseason, but it's not like any of those 12 runs will count toward Wednesday's score.
"They hit the ball well, but regardless, I think we'll be all right," said closer Drew Storen, who watched the carnage from the bullpen and stayed put until it was through. "We've had bad days in the season and we're not changing anything. It's about how you bounce back; that's what the good teams do."
As Johnson pointed out in his postgame remarks, the Nats are a young team and there are bound to be growing pains. Zimmermann, 26, learned a valuable lesson about pitching — not just throwing — against the dangerous Cards. Johnson hopes that Detwiler, also 26, was paying attention.
Jackson knows what he'll face against the team he pitched for and won a World Series ring with last season. He has been hammered by the Cards (Sept. 28) and held them to one run over eight innings (Aug. 30). The St. Louis lineup can be scary, but "good pitching will slow down good hitting," Johnson said.
The Nats have pitched well all season. They didn't Monday.
"That's a heck of an offensive club and this was just one of those games," said reliever Sean Burnett. "Since it's a playoff game, you don't want to say just throw it away. We have to pitch a little better."
A lot better unless they want their season to end this week. They can afford another "one of those days" in this series. Just not two.
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