Lynn, Cruz battery powers Cards to victory
St. Louis withstands late Washington rally to grab edge in series
WASHINGTON -- In opting to rest Yadier Molina and start Tony Cruz for the second time this week, manager Mike Matheny hoped to tap into a rapport that had helped Lance Lynn to seven scoreless innings on Monday.
The Cardinals had the added bonus of benefiting from their bats on Saturday.
In self-supporting fashion, the battery mates combined to drive in three runs, setting the Cardinals up for a 4-3 win in front of 41,084 fans at Nationals Park that Cruz would help close by navigating three young relievers through the final innings. The Nationals' final threat ended with Jayson Werth swinging through a 99-miles-per-hour fastball from Trevor Rosenthal, who closed a dizzying ninth with the potential tying run on third.
"We all know he has that fastball in him," Cruz said. "He reached back and grabbed that extra gear."
In a series that has seen a combined seven errors committed by both clubs, it was Washington's defensive miscue in the second that set the Cardinals up to score three unearned runs off Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann.
Allen Craig drew a walk with one out and would have been forced out at second had Anthony Rendon's throw from third not pulled second baseman Danny Espinosa off the bag. Instead of garnering the out -- and potentially turning an inning-ending double play -- the Nationals got none.
Kolten Wong's groundout moved both runners up, and Cruz -- whom the Nationals opted not to intentionally walk with two out and first base open -- made them pay by dropping a two-run single into right. Despite minimal playing time since the season began, the hit was Cruz's third in his first six at-bats. He added another in the eighth.
"To keep his swing and his timing and to put good passes, they've just been good at-bats all around," manager Mike Matheny said. "You actually work almost more as a backup than you do as an everyday guy -- just so you can be prepared for opportunities like this one."
Cruz has helped himself try to stay sharp by simulating game situations during batting practice and spending extra time in the cages when possible. Rarely used as a pinch-hitter, it's often the only swings he'll get each day.
"It's a bonus [to help offensively]. But at the same time, I put in my work in the cage," Cruz said. "I got a pitch up there that I could handle and put a good swing on it. It worked out."
Lynn followed with an RBI double, his first career extra-base hit after a 7-for-114 (.061) start that included 71 strikeouts. He snuck a smile as he pulled up at second and said afterward that his last notable double likely came in 2005, as a high schooler.
"Blind squirrel, I guess," Lynn joked. "Decent swing. Got lucky."
On the mound, Lynn carried over momentum from his last start, en route to becoming the Majors' first four-game winner. He prescribed to the new pregame routine he first tried Monday -- one in which he throws more pitches, incorporates more running and establishes fastball command before mixing in his breaking pitches -- and said afterward that he's "found something there" to keep.
Lynn came out of it and opened with four scoreless innings before Espinosa's leadoff homer in the fifth foiled another scoreless bid.
He ran into trouble only in the sixth, when his pitches started to move a bit too much and the Nationals' hitters turned patient. A one-out single followed by a pair of walks loaded the bases with two out for Espinosa. Though Lynn had thrown only 87 pitches, Matheny turned to lefty reliever Kevin Siegrist to assist in escaping the jam.
"My stuff was better today than it's been all year, and that's the disappointing thing in the way the game finished for me today," Lynn said. "I'm happy with the way I threw the ball. I'm not happy with the results."
The move to bring in Siegrist turned Espinosa around to hit from the right side, and it worked. Siegrist bailed Lynn out, as Espinosa flied out.
Siegrist retired the first two batters of the seventh, too, before Carlos Martinez bridged the gap to Rosenthal. Martinez allowed an eighth-inning run on consecutive doubles but bounced back by twice retiring the potential tying run.
The ninth turned interesting, too, behind Rosenthal. He walked one and then, after taking a ball off his upper right leg, made the mental mistake of trying to retire the lead runner instead of getting the runner at first.
"The hesitation just took too much time," Rosenthal said.
A balk advanced both runners. Then, Kevin Frandsen's groundout then pushed a run home, initiating a mound visit from pitching coach Derek Lilliquist.
"I applaud Derek Lilliquist going out there and putting a little fire in him," Matheny said. "He realized that this could happen in a hurry."
Rosenthal answered with three strikes -- all 98 mph or faster -- to close out the win.
"I felt good about those swings, and I bet [Rosenthal] feels good about those pitches, too," Werth said. "What are you going to do? Like I said, you take your shots. I've got a chance to win the game right there. He threw me a good fastball down in the corner of the zone and then rode two up at the top corner of the zone at 98, 99 [mph]. I felt like I took good swings. You tip your hat sometimes.
"They've got a good pitching staff, and [the] rotation is pretty solid. The back end is pretty tough, so if you're going to beat them you've got to give them your best."
The save was No. 5 for Rosenthal, who a week ago was taking questions about a drop in velocity. Consider that no longer among the club's concerns.
"We had to wait until all of us were on the edge of our seats there," Matheny said. "It's nice to know that everything is good and he's got that. ... Well-located horsepower is hard to replace."