Shaky defense foils Wacha's strong outing
Molina's error after wild pitch proves costly against Nationals
WASHINGTON -- A day after the Nationals' defense came under scrutiny for its bevy of miscues, the Cardinals did no favors for Michael Wacha as he worked to wiggle out of seventh-inning trouble in a tie game.
A missed catch by Matt Carpenter and an errant throw by Yadier Molina following a wild pitch compounded the inning and helped the Nationals to a pair of unearned runs on Friday night. That's all Washington required to even the series with a 3-1 win in a game where the Cardinals' hottest hitter watched the game end from the on-deck circle.
Matt Adams was denied the pinch-hit opportunity when Shane Robinson grounded into a game-ending double play. Manager Mike Matheny said later he hoped to deploy Adams for a shot at more than just a tie.
"To get Adams to the plate, we're looking to try to win this game," Matheny said. "It didn't work out."
The two clubs had traded runs early, with the Nationals scoring first on Anthony Rendon's third-inning homer and the Cardinals answering with Mark Ellis' RBI single in the fourth. In front of a crowd of 31,237 at Nationals Park, there was little other traffic on the bases through the first six innings. Wacha sailed, and Washington lefty Gio Gonzalez matched him.
"I felt very good," Wacha said. "I was able to attack them with pretty much everything tonight."
Gonzalez retired 11 straight after Ellis' hit, and his offense started pecking away for him in the seventh. Singles by Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond put Wacha into quick trouble and initiated a players-only mound meeting as Danny Espinosa prepared to hit.
They talked about their bunt defense -- there would be no wheel play to protect against Espinosa pulling back from the bunt -- but were clear in their objective. This was the time to be aggressive.
"We need to get that [out] at third base," Molina said. "That's the idea."
Espinosa gave them that chance. His bunt was fielded by Wacha, who didn't hesitate to throw to Carpenter at third. The ball glanced off Carpenter's glove for the third baseman's second error of the night.
"We got the perfect bunt. Michael made a great play," Carpenter said. "I got back to the bag and pretty much what happened was I stretched before I saw where it was going and ended up missing it. It was a good throw; I should have caught it."
With the bases then full, Wacha still had a chance at preserving the tie. He garnered his first out with a strikeout of Nate McLouth. A forceout at the plate secured the second. Nationals manager Matt Williams then pulled Gonzalez for pinch-hitter Zach Walters, who didn't have to do anything but watch Wacha bounce a 0-1 changeup that Molina couldn't keep in front of him.
"I've got to make a better pitch in that situation," Wacha said. "I spiked a changeup down in the dirt."
Desmond scored as the ball scooted away, and Espinosa followed when Molina's throw shot past Wacha and into the Cardinals' dugout.
"Talking about that play, I just blocked it, went after it, threw it away," Molina said. "It's that simple. I'm just trying to make a play and threw it away. My fault."
"You never see a ball get away from Yadi," Williams said. "Ever."
"How many times can you count Yadi has balls bounced at him?" Matheny added. "He's as good as anybody I've ever seen as far as keeping balls in front. That's a spot we want [Wacha] being able to throw balls in the dirt because we know [Molina] is going to make that play almost all the time. Today was one of those times that's very rare."
Wacha went on to retire Walters on a groundout.
Though only one of Washington's three runs off Wacha was earned, it was a considerably more successful offensive night for the Nationals than the last one they had against the right-hander. That came during the final week of the 2013 season, when Wacha held them hitless for 8 2/3 innings before Ryan Zimmerman prevented history by legging out an infield single.
He opened Friday's start by retiring five straight before an infield hit -- this a push bunt by Espinosa -- ensured there would be no run at a no-hitter again. Wacha gave up only two other hits, one the home run, before the seventh.
"That's one of the better pitched games we've seen from him and he's thrown some really good ones in a very young career," Matheny said. "Everything you could ask for."
The Cardinals, employing a right-handed-heavy lineup, did little against Gonzalez outside of stringing together three consecutive fourth-inning hits. A double by Allen Craig, who had a two-hit game, and singles by Molina and Ellis tied the game in the frame.
"We tried to do a good job of getting his pitch count up, but we just weren't able to get enough offense going," Carpenter said. "He was as good as he usually is and kept us off balance and was attacking that zone with his fastball."
The club did threaten against Washington's bullpen. The first two batters reached in the eighth and moved into scoring position with Jhonny Peralta's 11-pitch groundout. Drew Storen relieved Tyler Clippard and squashed that momentum by retiring Matt Holliday on a popup and Craig on a groundout.
Robinson's double play an inning later ended the final threat and snapped the Cardinals' eight-game winning streak -- one that dated back to the final game of the 2012 National League Division Series -- against the Nationals.
"I know that guys have a lot of faith in the defensive team that we are right now, and I believe we're going to get better," said Matheny. "But it just shows you that when you are facing a pitcher that is on like Gonzalez was today, you can't give them extra outs."