'No concession speech' for Cardinals in DC
Offense held to seven hits, error-assisted run in Game 3
WASHINGTON -- The Cardinals do not have the odds on their side.
An 8-1 loss Monday to the Nationals in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series put the Cardinals on the brink of elimination -- one game from being swept and seeing their season end.
The 2004 Red Sox are the only team in a best-of-seven series to overcome a 3-0 deficit. But the Cardinals are focused on Tuesday and the challenge that awaits them in a Nationals team looking for its first World Series berth in history.
“I can tell you this, and it's appropriate for the area we're at,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “There is no concession speech being written. This is a team that can absolutely win four games in a row, and clearly, we have to start tomorrow. So take care of business tomorrow, and then who knows, right? This group will bite, scratch, and claw. We're going to figure out a way to win tomorrow.”
That will involve forgetting almost everything about Monday night’s loss. Because in what felt like a must-win game, it all went wrong for the Cardinals.
They did not get the start out of their ace that they needed. Their defense did not help. And the little offense they had wasn’t near enough to win.
“It wasn’t our cleanest game,” Shildt said. “We haven't been able to play our brand of baseball in full. We haven't been able to get in rhythm or sync.”
Looking for a win that would get them back in the series, the Cardinals turned to Jack Flaherty, the best pitcher in baseball in the second half of the regular season. Although he struck out six, he threw 78 pitches in four innings and allowed four runs.
The game unraveled in the third inning after Flaherty allowed an RBI single to Adam Eaton. With two outs and a man on first, Anthony Rendon reached for a breaking ball and lifted it to Marcell Ozuna in left field. Ozuna had to slide to try to make the catch -- but the ball bounced out the web of his glove for an RBI double.
"It's a play that he's clearly capable of making, but it's not a play you absolutely expect somebody to make," Shildt said. "There's a lot of other plays in the game that were a factor that I can't single that out as being the fulcrum that led to the rest of the game."
According to Statcast, the ball had a 75% catch probability. The inning should have been over with the Nationals up 1-0. Instead, Flaherty walked Juan Soto and threw a wild pitch -- that got away from Yadier Molina -- that put men on second and third for Howie Kendrick’s first RBI double of the night to put the Nationals up 4-0.
“It was just execution,” Flaherty said. “You look at it that way, and it comes down to execution. Eaton’s ball found a hole. Rendon did a good job not punching out there with two strikes. I executed it pretty well, then I didn’t execute the one to Kendrick. That’s the one pitch that I want back.”
Monday was the first time this series that the Cardinals’ pitching didn’t keep the game close. But it wasn’t the first time this series that the Nationals’ pitching silenced the Cardinals’ offense.
After being no-hit through six innings in Games 1 and 2, the Cardinals had seven hits -- three more than the first two games combined -- off Stephen Strasburg. Ozuna’s leadoff double in the second inning was the Cardinals’ first hit, but he squandered it by wandering too far off the bag when José Martínez hit a soft grounder to Strasburg, who tagged Ozuna out.
Strasburg struck out 12 -- including Dexter Fowler and Paul Goldschmidt three times each -- and shut down the Cardinals any time they got on base.
“We know that we’ve really missed a lot of pitches that we could have done more with,” Kolten Wong said. “Collectively, as a team, we know that we’re missing pitches. When you’re doing that against this pitching staff, they’re going to run and they’re going to run and they’re going to run and they’re going to take advantage of it.”
The two runs the Cardinals have scored this series have come on Nationals miscues. In Game 2, Michael A. Taylor misread a ball in center field. On Monday, Soto slipped in left field and made an errant throw home that scored Martínez.
The Nationals' starters -- Strasburg, Aníbal Sánchez and Max Scherzer -- have not allowed an earned run this series. Part of the challenge that awaits the Cardinals on Tuesday is lefty Patrick Corbin, who didn’t allow an earned run when he faced the Cards back in September.
“As we tip our hat, we've also got to say that we didn't expect to have scored two runs in three games by any stretch of the imagination,” Shildt said. “These guys have done a great job of pitching. They've had a good game plan. They've executed their game plan, but by no means did we have anywhere close to the expectation that we would be pretty much shut down.”