The Cardinals suddenly seemed to remember Monday that they are the defending World Series champions. And, much to the chagrin of the Washington Nationals, they played like it.
The birds bombed the American League east champs with a non-relenting offense. Meanwhile, an impatient manager Mike Matheny pulled the plug on Jaime Garcia for a pinch hitter in the second inning and the St. Louis bullpen held the fort to bring home a 12-4 series-evening win.
Jon Jay made like Jim Edmonds and stole an extra base hit with a crashing catch against the left centerfield wall and he added a trio of RBIs to help St. Louis to the win. And Carlos Beltran turned the clock back to 2004, hitting a pair of 440-foot home runs to provide plenty of power.
Lance Lynn took over for Garcia, who threw 51 pitches in his two innings before being lifted for pinch hitter Skip Schumaker. Garcia went to a full count on hitters five times in the first two frames and seemed reluctant to challenge hitters. Somehow the Cardinals need to convince him to trust his stuff if he's going to realize his tremendous potential. Lynn struck out five in his three innings. He gave up two runs in his three innings of work. But they both came on solo homers at the end of his last inning. At the time the Redbirds enjoyed a comfortable 7-3 lead. So, while the luck was bad, I would prefer challenging hitters to getting into trouble by putting guys on and letting them have a chance to score in bunches.
The Redbirds simply played with a lot more life Monday, making things happen instead of waiting for breakthroughs that never came. One of the best examples came when Lynn bunted -- with two strikes no less -- and rookie shortstop Peter Kozma didn't even consider stopping at second base, making it to third before Washington knew what happened. The pressure in such a high stakes game seemed to shake up the Nationals and they could never recover.
A nice little bonus to the win was the Cardinals having the opportunity to put Trevor Rosenthal on the bump in the ninth to get him some playoff experience. Rosenthal lit up the radar gun with at least seven pitches of 100 MPH or better -- and then he broke off a handful of 83-84 MPH breaking balls just to keep things interesting. I think his time in the NLDS will be appreciated in two years when he's the St. Louis closer. (Not that I don't like Motte. But he's at the stage of his career where he's going to get prohibitively expensive quickly. With David Freese, Jon Jay and Allen Craig heading into their arbitration years, the Birds might need to save some money in the bullpen.)
While the Cardinals don't have the front end of the rotation flash of the Nationals, their depth will come in handy Wednesday. They'll send 2005 Cy Young Award winner and seasoned post-season pitcher Chris Carpenter to the mound against former Redbird rental Edwin Jackson. Yeah, he pitched for St. Louis last year in the World Series. But it's pretty safe to say Carp's resume is quite a bit more impressive.
Cardinals Star of the Game: Jon Jay
Cardinals Play of the Game: Jay's grand theft extra base hit.
Lowlight: Jaime Garcia couldn't make it to the third inning. It could have put the Birds in a bad spot. But their depth paid off in spades.