By Jenifer Langosch and Benjamin Standig
WASHINGTON -- Though they frittered away an early five-run lead, the Cardinals, propelled by second baseman Kolten Wong, struck late to steal a 7-5 win over Washington on Wednesday and even a three-game series at Nationals Park.
Wong had his second straight three-hit night, this time delivering a two-run homer in his first at-bat and giving the Cards the lead back with an RBI double off Blake Treinen in the eighth. In between, Wong provided a reel of defensive gems. His most impressive two came in succession as he closed the fifth and opened the sixth by ranging far to his right (past the second base bag in the case of the latter) and making perfect, off-balance throws to first.
"I think this is my first one," Wong said when asked if this was as complete a game as he's played in some time. "To do it on both sides is something that you always hope for. Especially with the rough start I had defensively, to come out and get my defense going, it's a big thing."
Wong's first homer of the year followed a first-inning blast by Matt Carpenter. It was all part of the early ambush the Cardinals put on Nats starter Doug Fister, who allowed five runs (four earned) over the first three innings. But Cards starter John Lackey gave them all back in the third, with Yunel Escobar contributing a bases-clearing double in that frame.
Matt Adams padded the Cardinals' lead with a solo homer in the ninth, giving the Cardinals a three-homer evening. The club entered the day having hit just six home runs, tied with Milwaukee for the fewest in the National League.
Matt Grace made his Major League debut for the Nationals, and the left-hander tossed a scoreless inning of relief.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Who's on first?: Staked to a five-run lead, Lackey allowed the third inning to unravel under him. He may have gotten out of it with just one run allowed had Lackey covered first base on a two-out grounder to Adams. Because he didn't, Adams lost a foot race to Ryan Zimmerman to allow another run to score. Escobar followed with a three-run double that tied the game. The Nationals batted around in the frame.
"I definitely need to be there a little bit quicker, for sure," Lackey said. "Just one crazy inning."
First time for everything: Smooth generally describes Zimmerman's transition from third to first base this season with the occasional spectacular play. Then came the top of the third inning. St. Louis scored one run in the frame for a 4-0 lead and had runners at first and second following Adams' two-out, RBI double and a walk to Jhonny Peralta. Jon Jay slapped a grounder toward first, but Zimmerman couldn't make the play moving to his right, allowing Adams to score an unearned run.
Carpenter crushes: Carpenter extended his Major League-best on-base streak to 20 games with a leadoff homer to right. It was the sixth leadoff homer of Carpenter's career and his first since … Sunday. Carpenter leads the club with three homers and has at least one extra-base hit in eight of the team's last nine games.
"He's driving the ball when he can and working the counts when he needs to," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "t's a good balance right now. It's a plan he talked about early in spring."
If at Fister you don't succeed: Fister put the Nationals in a bind early, allowing five runs over the opening three innings. St. Louis scored at least one run in each frame with five hits overall, including two homers. After Washington tied the game at 5 in the bottom of third, Fister found his groove. He surrendered only two hits over his final three innings, wrapping up his outing with a 1-2-3 sixth.
"I really just focused on working with my sinker, mixing in other pitches," Fister said. "Trying to keep things off-balance and letting my defense work."
"When he gets into one, it sounds good and looks good. That was a great time to get a little bit more room." -- Matheny on Adams' ninth-inning homer, the second RBI hit of the first baseman's night.
WHAT'S NEXT Cardinals:St. Louis will send Michael Wacha to the mound for Thursday's series finale, which has a scheduled first pitch of 3:05 p.m. CT. Wacha's only previous appearance at Nationals Park came last April, when he took the loss while allowing three runs (one earned) over seven innings.
Nationals:Max Scherzer closes out the three-game series against the Cardinals at Nationals Park. The St. Louis native faces his hometown team for the first time with Washington and the third time in career. Scherzer enters loaded with momentum, sporting a 1-1 record and 0.83 ERA in three starts. The right-hander struck out 25 batters in 21 2/3 innings.