WASHINGTON -- Max Scherzer's one bad inning proved costly on Friday night as Stephen Piscotty hit a grand slam and the Cardinals defeated the Nationals, 6-2, at Nationals Park. The Nationals are now in a first-place tie with the Mets.
Despite a pair of walks, Scherzer was able to get out of the first two innings unscathed, but the next inning proved to be a disaster, as the Cardinals scored five runs. With one out, Scherzer's counterpart, Jaime Garcia, singled to right field. After Greg Garcia walked and Aledmys Diaz singled, the bases were loaded when Matt Holliday walked to score Garcia.
"The walks in the third, I'm not going to beat myself up over those because I was in 0-2 counts and I ended up walking them," Scherzer said. "It's more indicative that I just didn't have put-away pitches at that point. I really didn't have my changeup going early in the game."
Piscotty followed Holliday's walk with a grand slam over the left-field wall.
"It was a dumb pitch," Scherzer said of the hanging slider Piscotty hit out. "I hadn't shown my fastball yet, and I threw another slider and I hung it. He put a good swing on it, ended in a blast."
Garcia pitched seven solid innings, allowing two runs on seven hits and winning his fourth game of the season. He did allow a solo homer to Danny Espinosa in the fifth inning, and Bryce Harper scored the second run on a double-play ball hit by Ryan Zimmerman in the sixth.
The Cardinals would add to their lead in the eighth inning, when Greg Garcia hit his second home run of the season off Nationals reliever Yusmeiro Petit. Garcia, who was called up Thursday when Matt Carpenter was placed on paternity leave, is now hitting .615 (8-13). In addition to his home run, he drew two walks and played solid defense at third base.
"Right off the bat, getting us going with the two at-bats [in which] he drew the walks," manager Mike Matheny said of Garcia. "And then we're not even talking about a homer to the opposite gap. Just a great day."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Piscotty clears the bases: With the bases loaded and a run already in in the third inning, Piscotty whacked a slider from Scherzer into the left-field seats for his first career grand slam. That homer, Piscotty's sixth of the year, handed the Cardinals a 5-0 lead.
"I'm just trying to get a good pitch over the middle of the plate," Piscotty said. "I put a good swing on it. … He's got good stuff, and you don't want to chase." More >
Third time not the charm: After throwing 22 pitches in the first two innings, Scherzer threw 35 pitches in the third inning, allowing five runs on two walks and three hits. Scherzer retired the next 14 hitters he faced after Piscotty's grand slam.
"I don't know what allowed me to get in sync, but after that third inning I found my changeup and was able to pitch with it and really was able to settle in and go deep into the game," Scherzer said. "As much as I hate taking a punch to the face, giving up five runs, the only solace that can come out of this is that I did go seven.
"So you save some innings on the bullpen, you save the wear and tear, and that can help those guys tomorrow, and the next day. So as frustrating as it is for me to go out there and give up a crooked number like that, the fact that I can save the bullpen at least saves something for us." More >
Garcia goes deep: For the second straight night, the Cardinals got a long and productive outing from their starting pitcher. Garcia threw seven innings, allowing seven hits and two runs while giving the St. Louis bullpen some rest. The lefty allowed the home run to Espinosa in the fifth and three hits in the sixth but avoided a truly bad inning. The performance got Garcia back on track after two substandard starts and improved his ERA to 3.47, best among Cardinals starters.
"Jaime was good," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "You can tell when his sink's there. He had very good movement. He used his changeup and slider, but his sinker was a great pitch for him today."
Cards' defense flips script: The Cardinals were the NL's worst defensive team entering Friday's action, but they made several plays to prevent the Nationals from scoring. Perhaps the most important came in the sixth inning, when the Nationals had runners on first and third with no outs. Zimmerman hit a smash to Garcia at third base. Though Harper scored, Garcia dove for the ball and was able to start a double play to clear the bases.
"The third baseman, Garcia, made some tremendous plays. That saved a couple of runs, and the Cardinals turned double plays," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said.
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
In his last 17 games, Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon is hitting .373 with a .479 on-base percentage.
WARNING FROM THE UMPIRE
After Ben Revere was almost hit by a pitch in the fifth inning, home-plate umpire Alan Porter gave warnings to both dugouts. Baker did not think Garcia was throwing at the Nationals. Earlier in the game, Garcia hit Daniel Murphy with a pitch.
"I don't know what happens in a warning anymore," Baker said. "If you come close to a guy, I guess it's a warning. You could tell Garcia wasn't sharp. In my mind I know, he wasn't trying to hit those guys."
WHAT'S NEXT Cardinals: Adam Wainwright will start for the Cardinals on Saturday at 6:15 p.m. CT as they take on the Nationals in the third game of this four-game series. Though Wainwright has stumbled to a 5.77 ERA, St. Louis has won six straight games in which he has pitched.
Nationals: Left-hander Gio Gonzalez on Saturday at 7:15 p.m. ET will try to bounce back from his worst outing of the season last time out vs. the Mets, who tagged him for seven runs on 10 hits in five innings to increase his ERA by a full run. He has a 1.54 ERA in five career starts against the Cardinals.