Runs at premium, Nats' lineup depth pays off
Eaton, Kendrick, Gomes come through in Game 1
ST. LOUIS -- Game-planning for the Nationals’ offense? It’s not rocket science: Start with Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto, arguably the most fearsome three-four duo in the sport.
And yet -- as the Nationals proved again on Friday night in a 2-0 victory in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series presented by GEICO -- their offense is so much more than just a two-man show.
Rendon and Soto weren't exactly quiet. They reached base four times in 10 plate appearances at Busch Stadium. But the Cardinals’ pitching staff clearly was determined not to be beaten by either.
And they weren’t. Instead, it was Adam Eaton, Howie Kendrick and Yan Gomes who came through in the game’s decisive moments.
“All year, that’s how we’ve been,” said Ryan Zimmerman, who reached base three times. “Up and down the lineup.”
Kendrick led off the top of the second inning with a double, but Cardinals starter Miles Mikolas seemed poised to escape the threat when he struck out Michael A. Taylor for the second out. Rather than walk Gomes to face Nationals pitcher Aníbal Sánchez, the Cardinals opted to pitch to the No. 8 hitter.
That move backfired. Gomes, starting in place of injured backstop Kurt Suzuki, split the left-center-field gap. His two-out double gave Washington an early 1-0 lead.
“He stepped up big,” said Nationals manager Dave Martinez. “It’s been like that. He’s been big. Suzuki went down, and [Gomes] -- for the last three weeks or something -- he’s been huge.”
The Nationals threatened again against Mikolas. They loaded the bases in the fifth and put two men aboard in the sixth. Both times, they came up empty. But when the Cardinals went to their bullpen for the seventh inning, the Nats offered a clinic in lineup depth.
With one out, Eaton laced a line drive to left-center and chugged his way to third base for a triple, just ahead of Matt Carpenter’s tag. The Cardinals opted to walk Rendon, then called for lefty Andrew Miller to face the lefty-hitting Soto. After a seven-pitch duel, Miller whiffed Soto with a slider.
The Cards had successfully navigated Rendon and Soto, keeping the deficit at one. The Busch Stadium crowd breathed a premature sigh of relief.
Kendrick loomed, and St. Louis called for right-hander John Brebbia. Kendrick looked at a high fastball, then smashed a hanging slider into center field for a single, giving the Nationals a 2-0 lead.
“Man, [Kendrick] has been doing it for a long time, and he doesn’t get enough credit for how good of a player he’s been in this league,” Zimmerman said. “You talk about a pure hitter.”
It wasn’t quite an extra-innings grand slam in a winner-take-all Division Series Game 5. But it was the second time in as many games that an opponent made the decision to intentionally walk one of the Nationals’ two big bats in a crucial moment. Both times, Kendrick was there to capitalize.
If it wasn’t clear already, the message was simple: Rendon and Soto anchor this Washington offense. But threats lurk everywhere. The Cardinals, like the Dodgers, learned that the hard way.