ST. LOUIS — Veteran right-hander Anibal Sanchez, with an assortment of off-speed pitches and guile, did not allow a hit until the eighth inning and the Washington Nationals beat the St. Louis Cardinals 2-0 in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series on Friday night at Busch Stadium.
The 35-year-old Sanchez had not beaten the Cardinals since June 27, 2012, when he pitched for the Miami Marlins. The native of Venezuela retired the first nine batters he faced before allowing a walk and didn’t give up a hit until two outs in the eighth as pinch-hitter Jose Martinez lined a clean single to center.
That brought on lefty reliever Sean Doolittle, who retired the next batter to end the eighth.
Doolittle stayed on to start the ninth and got the last three outs as the Nationals took a 1-0 series lead.
The Nationals scored their first run in NLCS history in the top of the second before a sellout crowd of 45,075 red-clad fans on a 45-degree night.
Washington’s Howie Kendrick, the hero of Game 5 Wednesday at the Los Angeles Dodgers, led off with a double against Cardinals starter Miles Mikolas.
Two outs later Yan Gomes smoked a double to left-center to score Kendrick and give the Nationals a 1-0 lead.
Gomes got the start at catcher after regular Kurt Suzuki was hit with a pitch on Wednesday. Suzuki took batting practice Friday.
“We need to be cautious,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said of Suzuki. “When it comes to a head injury, we got to make sure that he’s good to go.”
The Nationals loaded the bases in the fifth, but Juan Soto grounded out for the third out to end the threat off Mikolas.
The Cardinals have been upset with the antics of Soto in the batter’s box, and Mikolas appeared to grab his crotch after Soto grounded out. The Cardinals feel Soto does the same thing at times.
“He does have a lot of things he does that make him uniquely different than everyone else,” Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright said before the game. “I don’t know what else to say about that.”
Mikolas gave up just the one run on seven hits before he was taken out after six innings.
Washington put runners on the corner with two outs in the seventh for Kendrick, whose single against reliever John Brebbia gave the Nationals a 2-0 lead.
Michael A. Taylor got the start in center again as Victor Robles deals with a sore hamstring.
“He’s about 80 to 85 percent,” Martinez said of Robles. “Like I said before, with Michael playing center field we don’t miss much defensively.”
Game 2 will be Saturday at 4:08 p.m. with St. Louis native Max Scherzer going against Wainwright, a veteran for the Cardinals.
Scherzer doesn’t get too sentimental about being back home. He is 2-2 with a 2.56 ERA in five career starts here.
“Yeah, grew up here but at this point in time really doesn’t mean anything because I got a bigger task at hand and that’s to go out there and win it for the Nats,” he said.
Scherzer pitched against the Cardinals here last month. “It’s fresh in my mind of what pitches they can hit,” he said. “It’s going to be a tough fight, I know that.”
The Cardinals certainly didn’t hit much against Sanchez on Friday.
Game 3 of the series will be Monday at Nationals Park with the first pitch at 7:38 p.m. ET.
Game 4 will be Tuesday at 8:05 p.m. ET and Game 5, if needed, will be Wednesday at 4:08 p.m.