WASHINGTON -- Through at least one lens, the Cardinals envisioned nights like Tuesday at Nationals Park. Not from their bullpen, which, taxed and in a state of flux, turned a six-run lead into a save situation in the ninth. Not from their pitching staff as a whole, which has issued more walks over its last three games than Miles Mikolas has all year. Not in the effort and manpower it required -- seven pitchers and four home runs -- to cling to an 11-8 win over the Nationals.
But when it comes to Marcell Ozuna, the Cardinals have pictured nights like Tuesday for more than a while. Ozuna's first multi-homer game with St. Louis was, at the very least, one of the many elements that led to the four-hour, 10-minute victory that snapped the Cardinals' three-game losing streak and kept them within 1 1/2 games of Milwaukee for the first National League Wild Card spot. St. Louis also moved within 4 1/2 games of the NL Central-leading Cubs, who lost to the Brewers.
"Was that enough baseball for you?" manager Mike Shildt said. "The initial thing to unpack is that we won the game."
It didn't take Shildt long, in his daily search for positives, to land on Ozuna, who paced the Cardinals' homer-happy attack with a pair of go-ahead solo shots. But the reality is St. Louis needed much more. More than the four-run cushion they sprinted to behind Ozuna's first home run and Matt Carpenter's two-run single in the second. More than the three-homer sixth Ozuna started and Paul DeJong and Patrick Wisdom finished, and nearly more than the "much needed insurance," according to Shildt, that Yadier Molina's ninth-inning grand slam provided.
"It was a wild game," winning pitcher Tyson Ross said. "That's for sure."
Summoned to extinguish a two-out bases-loaded jam in the fifth, Ross recorded one of the game's two most important outs for a Cardinals relief corps without Bud Norris and Carlos Martinez. The other -- and final out -- came from Jordan Hicks, whom Shildt warmed up thrice and was forced to use after Dominic Leone surrendered three runs in the ninth.
Hicks' one-out save came out of desperation, though he may be asked to earn more straightforward save assignments in the weeks to come with the struggling Norris' status up in the air.
On this night, Ross, Hudson and Hicks were all necessary after the game reset over the course of an erratic fifth inning, during which starter John Gant's fifth walk loaded the bases and reliever Tyler Webb forced in two runs with walks on either side of a two-run double from Bryce Harper, who reached base safely eight times in 11 plate appearances in the first two games of the series. Harper earned three of the 11 walks handed out by Cardinals pitching on Tuesday. They've issued 29 free passes in their last three games.
"The walks are concerning," Shildt said. "We ended up needing everyone, pretty much. … That's why when we talk about roles, you guys want answers, but I just can't be absolutely [sure] about them."
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
Trea Turner was attempting to steal second base on a 3-2 pitch to Harper, which was ball four. The walk gave Turner second base automatically, but DeJong alertly kept his tag on Turner after receiving Molina's throw. Turner lost contact with second base, which meant he was fair game to be tagged by DeJong for an out. Shildt asked for a review on the play, with Turner still standing safely on second base after the initial ruling. After a brief review, Turner was ruled out, giving the Cardinals two outs with just Harper on first instead of runners on first and second with one out. Anthony Rendon flew out to right field to end the inning.
• Cards nab Turner going from 1st to 2nd on walk
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Ozuna breaks out: The fluidity Shildt craves in the bullpen comes in stark contrast to the consistency St. Louis sought from Ozuna, whom the Cardinals foresaw last offseason as a middle-of-the-order anchor that could slug them through a stretch run. Instead, he spent much of the summer with a slugging percentage hovering around .400 and prone to long stretches defined by singles. At one point, teammates nicknamed Ozuna -- who hit 37 home runs last season for Miami -- "Ichiro."
On Tuesday, Ozuna pulled a 416-foot shot (according to Statcast™) off Washington starter Erick Fedde in the second, and then he drove a 411-foot clout the other way for his first opposite-field homer of the season off Austen Williams in the sixth. The second homer began a string of three in a four-batter span off Williams, who went 68 innings in the Minors without surrendering a home run this season. DeJong sent his first opposite-field homer of the season out to right, and Wisdom pulled his third in 20 games.
"All those balls were crushed," Shildt said. "We expect to see Ozuna drive the ball. We're looking for damage in the middle of the lineup."
With a single in the second inning, Molina moved into sole possession of 13th place on the all-time hit list among catchers. The hit marked his 1,839th, passing former Phillies and Angels backstop Bob Boone.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
To hang on in the ninth, the Cardinals needed two notable defensive efforts. The first came from Yairo Munoz. Having started the game at second base, Munoz was in right field in the ninth when he went over the wall to bring back what became a two-run Ryan Zimmerman double off Leone. Two batters later, Greg Garcia dove to take away a hit from Matt Wieters and end the game.
"It's a four-hour game, and guys are drenched," Shildt said. "To their credit, they're staying engaged, saying, 'Let's go make a play.' It speaks to how they're competing."
FROM THE TRAINER'S ROOM
Harrison Bader underwent X-rays more than an hour after bruising his left ankle on a foul ball in the eighth. Bader remained in the game but had to "hobble around" the outfield afterward. Though he was limping significantly, Bader did not rule out playing tomorrow, at which point he will be re-evaluated.
The Cardinals hope that by taking advantage of off-days and sprinkling in a spot starter or two, they can ease the burden on several pitchers who are approaching career-high workloads. That group includes Mikolas (13-4, 2.96 ERA), who will be on two extra days' rest when he starts Wednesday's series finale from Nationals Park. Mikolas has actually made more starts on extra rest than he has on the normal four days this season, to mixed results (higher ERA, better peripherals). He'll oppose Tanner Roark (8-14, 4.03), with first pitch set for 6:05 p.m. CT.