ST. LOUIS -- An overturned call and a two-run homer by Danny Espinosa sparked the Nationals in a four-run fourth inning that proved to be just enough for them to hold on for a 5-4 victory on Friday night against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium.
The inning hinged on a replay review the Nationals requested after Anthony Rendon was called out trying to swipe second. But instead of becoming the inning's second out, Rendon was awarded the base and later scored the tying run on an RBI single by Daniel Murphy.
"That's what led to the inning," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "We've won a couple lately, but we were like 0-for-the-world before that. That was big. That was real big. Replay helped us tonight for the first time."
Two batters later, Espinosa lined a two-strike, two-out pitch into the Cardinals' bullpen to put the Nationals ahead by three. In total, Washington scored five times off Cardinals starter Mike Leake, who remains winless this season.
"Early in the at-bat, he swung through a couple of pitches on the outside," catcher Eric Fryer said of Leake's approach against Espinosa. "We tried to go back outside again to get him to swing through the pitch a third time, and it caught a little too much of the plate and was a little higher than we wanted it to be."
That lead was capably held by starter Stephen Strasburg, who struck out nine on his way to a 4-0 record. He allowed a pair of first-inning runs before rolling off six scoreless innings
"It looked like a different break to his slider in the middle innings," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of Strasburg. "Guys were having a tough time picking it up. Good pitchers do that. They make the adjustments, figure out what they have to do a little bit differently."
Upon Strasburg's departure, Matt Adams took reliever Blake Treinen deep to reduce a three-run deficit to one in the eighth.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Offensive barrage: The Nationals had been held scoreless for 22 consecutive innings entering Friday's game. Michael Taylor's leadoff home run ended that drought, but the Nationals really broke out in the fourth, punctuated by Espinosa's first homer of the year. It was especially encouraging for the Nationals, considering Taylor and Espinosa have scuffled at the plate the most this season. More >
Taking advantage: Adams drew the start at first base because of some past success against Strasburg -- 3-for-6 with a pair of doubles -- and he quickly added to it with an RBI single in his first at-bat. Adams' hit foiled Washington's defensive shift against him and gave the Cardinals a 2-1 lead four batters into the game. He later connected for an opposite-field home run, his second long ball this season.
"I feel very comfortable in the box right now," Adams said. "I feel like my rhythm is on point and where it needs to be. I've been working hard getting it to where it is. I feel like today is where it should be." More >
Finding a groove: After the two-run first, Strasburg settled down and returned to dominant form, recording seven of his nine strikeouts in an eight-batter span.
"Yeah, I think it just comes with experience and maturing," Strasburg said. "It's easy to kind of hit the panic button after a couple runs early and stuff. But that's not how I want to go about it. If it's not my day, it's not my day -- but I'm going to fight until the very end."
Cooling off? Rookie Aledmys Diaz, who opened the day leading the Majors with a .446 batting average and 1.263 OPS, had a chance to increase the Cardinals' early lead when he came up with a pair of runners in scoring position in the first. A flyout to right ended that threat, and Diaz finished the night 0-for-4 to go hitless in consecutive games for the first time in his career.
"I hate to say I'm almost there. I should be there. But I am pretty positive with the direction I'm going. One month won't kill you. There are still five more months to go. Unfortunately, this month went the way it did. We have to move on." -- Leake, who is 0-3 through five starts with St. Louis
AFTER FURTHER REVIEW
A well-timed challenge by the Nationals led to a pivotal rally in the fourth inning. Rendon was called out trying to steal second base, but after a replay review, the call was overturned. Washington took advantage with an RBI single from Murphy, followed by a sacrifice fly from Jayson Werth and Espinosa's two-run homer.
WHAT'S NEXT Nationals:Joe Ross will pitch for the first time since April 20, when a blister on his right middle finger forced him to leave that start against the Marlins after two innings. The Nationals skipped Ross' last turn through the rotation as a precaution. He has been effective when he has pitched, with a 0.54 ERA in 16 2/3 innings. First pitch is scheduled for 2:15 p.m. ET.
Cardinals: After making consecutive five-inning starts, left-hander Jaime Garcia will be looking to go deeper when he starts Saturday at 1:15 p.m. CT against the Nationals in the second game of a three-game set.