WASHINGTON – Tonight, the Nation’s Capital will party like it’s 1933.
The Washington Nationals completed a dominating sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals with a 7-4 victory that wrapped up the National League Championship Series – and set the stage for the first World Series in Washington, D.C., since the original Senators lost to the New York Giants 86 years ago.
The Nationals hit rookie starter Dakota Hudson with seven runs in the first inning to give the sellout crowd of 43,976 visions of the franchise’s first National League pennant. But the Cardinals cut the lead to three runs in the fifth and had the bases loaded in the top of the eighth before closer Daniel Hudson wiggled his way out of a jam by getting pinch-hitter Matt Carpenter to ground out to end the inning.
The inability of the St. Louis hitters to generate any offense was the story of this NLCS. Corbin’s four earned runs in Game 4 were the first ones Nationals starting pitchers allowed in the series. The Cardinals could muster just 16 hits in 123 at-bats over the four games, for a collective .130 average. And they never had a lead at any point in the entire series.
“They beat us, clearly,” said Cardinals manager Mike Shildt. “They pitched very, very well … we tip our hat to them and wish them nothing but the best.”
When the final out of the game settled into center fielder Victor Robles’ glove, the Nationals poured out of the dugout in wild celebration. And all of a sudden, the team’s past first-round playoff exits in 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017 became distant memories.
“We’ve had some chances and haven’t come through but they say you learn from your failures,” said the team’s longest-tenured player, first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. “All those guys that were on those teams are part of this tonight, even though they’re not here.
“This organization has come a long way.”
Man of the moment
He didn’t quite pitch to the standard of the first three Nationals starters, but left-hander Patrick Corbin did show a similar streak of dominance – striking out the side in the top of the first inning and fanning seven of the first nine hitters to come to the plate.
Entering the game with a 7.56 ERA in the postseason, Corbin settled back into his familiar starting role after a relief appearance in Game 2. After cruising through the first three innings, recorded strikeouts eight and nine before Yadier Molina plated the Cardinals’ first run with a solo homer in the fourth. Although he gave up three runs in the fifth, Corbin came back to fan Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna – both on his trademark slider – to end the threat.
Corbin’s final line: five innings, four runs, four hits, three walks and 12 strikeouts.
The Nats made an immediate statement in Game 4, blasting rookie right-hander Dakota Hudson for seven runs on six hits in the bottom of the first inning.
“We’ve really harped on just starting fast, especially when you’re up 3-0,” right fielder Adam Eaton said. “We wanted to try to get on them and get on them early. We didn’t want their starting pitcher to really settle in there.”
Anthony Rendon drove in the first run with a sacrifice fly and Juan Soto added an RBI double to get things started. The Nationals also benefited from a pair of defensive misplays: second baseman Kolten Wong dropped a throw on a potential force play and a trio of Cardinals – Wong, right fielder Jose Martinez and first baseman Paul Goldschmidt – allowed a shallow popup off the bat of Victor Robles to drop in between them that allowed another run to score.
That one inning typified the Nationals’ complete dominance in the series … and also the Cardinals’ relative ineptitude. Even thought St. Louis did cut the lead to three, their anemic offense never gave any indication they could fully recover from such a huge early deficit.
FATEFUL 1ST: Cardinals unravel, Nats score 7 in 1st inning
BRONX ZOO: Astros outfielder calls out Yankee fans
Knowing the reward was nearly a week’s worth of rest if his team could complete the sweep, Nationals manager Dave Martinez was aggressive in going to his bullpen in the sixth inning with Corbin showing signs of fatigue.
Martinez pulled Corbin after 94 pitches and turned the game over to hard-throwing right-hander Tanner Rainey for a 1-2-3 sixth inning.
In the seventh he called on left-hander Sean Doolittle, who retired five consecutive batters before allowing a two-out single. So with four outs remaining, Martinez brought out closer Daniel Hudson to extinguish any threat in the eighth and get the final three outs in the ninth.
“Patrick got out of some jams, and then our bullpen.” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “I can’t say enough about Rainey, Doo, Huddy, what they did today … but they’ve done that through the whole playoffs.”
Needing a mulligan
The Cardinals’ No. 3 and 4 hitters, Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna, both hit .412 with an OPS over 1.300 in the division series. However, it was a completely different story against the Nationals in the NLCS.
Goldschmidt struck out four times in Game 3 and each of his first three times up in Game 4. He finished the series with one single and nine strikeouts in 16 at-bats.
Ozuna wasn’t much better. After striking out his first three trips to the plate against Corbin, he singled in the eighth to finish the series 3-for-16.
Combined, they hit a meager .125 with one extra-base hit in four games. With such as devastating lack of production from the heart of the order, the Cardinals never had a lead in the entire series.
State of the Nationals
Following their sweep, the Nationals will have a little extra time to rest before traveling to either Houston or New York for Game 1 of the World Series next Tuesday.
Nats manager Dave Martinez will have the luxury of giving his four starting pitchers – who were so dominant in sweeping the Cardinals – even more rest than they were accustomed to having in the regular season.
Most likely that means Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg will start Games 1 and 2 on the road with Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez in some order for Games 3 and 4 as the World Series returns to Washington for the first time since 1933.