WASHINGTON—The Washington Nationals are hoping the momentum of a dramatic victory in front of a raucous crowd will carry over into another must-win game.
The St. Louis Cardinals believe their postseason experience over the last two years will help them with their season on the line yet again.
This division series concludes Friday night with Game 5 in Washington, where Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez has not allowed an earned run over his last 23 innings.
Washington won 2-1 on Thursday on Jayson Werth’s leadoff homer in the bottom of the ninth off Lance Lynn. Werth had not homered since Sept. 8.
“It’s what it’s all about. It’s what you play all season for and what you work out all winter for and what you get to spring training early for,” said Werth, who connected to cap a 13-pitch at-bat. “We have a chance tomorrow to take that next step. I know my teammates will be ready and the city will, too.”
St. Louis went 4-0 when facing elimination en route to winning the World Series last year, and won 6-3 at Atlanta last Friday in the inaugural wild-card playoff game. Now the Cardinals find themselves in the same situation one week later.
“We got a lot of experience, a lot of confidence built,” first baseman Allen Craig said. “Just going to the World Series and winning the World Series, having to play a Game 7 and come out on top - you’re seeing a lot of us use that experience so far in this postseason.
“We had a tough, do-or-die game in Atlanta and came out on top, and after we won that game, I think we started to feel really good about ourselves and get that feeling like we had last year.”
The Cardinals were limited to three hits Thursday after totaling 20 runs and 27 hits in consecutive victories that gave them a 2-1 series lead.
It’s up to Gonzalez (0-0, 3.60 ERA) to hold St. Louis in check Friday. He made his playoff debut Sunday in Game 1, allowing two runs and walking seven over five innings in a 3-2 road victory.
“It was my first postseason game, no excuses, but the way I see it is playing in someone else’s house, pretty rowdy,” Gonzalez said. “It’s pretty exciting. You catch yourself at the moment, take a step back and take a deep breath and try to find it again.”
The left-hander figures to be more confident at home, where he has won his last four outings including his 23-inning stretch without yielding an earned run. He dominated St. Louis by striking out eight in a five-hitter during a 10-0 home victory Aug. 31.
Gonzalez will once again be up against Adam Wainwright (0-0, 1.59), who also limited the damage by yielding one run over 5 2-3 innings in the opener - his second career postseason start. Wainwright became the first Cardinal to strike out 10 in a playoff game since Bob Gibson in 1968.
“Same thing with Wainwright, he kept his team in the game he went 5 2-3 and one earned run,” Gonzalez said. “You look at it as we both went out there and competed and you learn from it and you make adjustments and you go out there and attack the strike zone.”
Wainwright also fared well against Washington on Sept. 28 as he earned a 12-2 victory by allowing one run over six innings. He was hit hard at Nationals Park on Aug. 31, though, opposing Gonzalez and giving up six runs over a season-low 2 2-3 innings.
The right-hander owns a 0.77 career postseason ERA including nine relief appearances. He’s no stranger to pressure situations, striking out current teammate Carlos Beltran with the bases loaded for the final out to preserve a 3-1 victory over the Mets in Game 7 of the 2006 NL championship series.
“Of course I wish we would have won (Thursday), but you know what? This is every pitcher’s dream, I would say,” Wainwright said. “Every competitor’s dream is to go in huge moments like that, so I look forward to the challenge.”
The Nationals have been outscored 23-9 in this series and teenage All-Star Bryce Harper continues to struggle, going 1 for 18 with six strikeouts. Adam LaRoche entered Thursday 1 for 11 in the series before homering in the second inning to give Washington the lead.
Manager Davey Johnson doesn’t sound concerned about the lack of offense.
“We won with three hits (Thursday); a couple big blasts,” he said. “But I’d rather see that kind of game, it’s more fun for me to manage that kind of game than, you know, a 10-9 game.”
The winner advances to face San Francisco in the NLCS, which begins Sunday.