"You work all season to get home-field advantage. And we got it," right fielder Jayson Werth said. "We're going home with the series tied, and we get a chance to play in front of our fans, and that's what it's all about. We did our job while we were here -- we split the series -- and we'll head home."
That's the silver lining for the Nationals, of course: They can put the blowout loss behind them because they'll have three chances to win two games in front of their home fans. They remain confident in Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler to win the next two games and push them forward to the NL Championship Series.
On the other hand, they watched Gio Gonzalez, their Game 1 starter, walk seven batters in five innings, then saw Zimmermann get hit around in a way he seldom does against any other opponent. And while the Nats can say they accomplished their goal of at least splitting the series, the Cardinals are equally optimistic about their chances, especially given the numbers of players on their roster who went through similar moments en route to the 2011 World Series.
"We wanted to come out and make a statement and tie this up before we went to D.C.," St. Louis second baseman Daniel Descalso said. "We came out and did exactly what we wanted to."
Early on, that meant the Cardinals having their way with Zimmermann. The righty struggled against St. Louis in two starts this year, giving up 11 runs in 10 innings, and entered Game 2 with a career 9.12 ERA against the Cards. That's a departure from the norm for a pitcher who made 26 quality starts this season, including a run of 21 straight to begin the year, and finished with a 2.94 ERA.
It was difficult for anyone in either clubhouse to explain exactly why the Cardinals have Zimmermann's number. The right-hander said he just wasn't executing his pitches. Johnson said Zimmermann came out throwing too many fastballs away from hitters, a mistake against a lineup fully capable of hitting fastballs, even in the afternoon shadows. Catcher Kurt Suzuki simply offered that some hitters see certain pitchers better than others, so maybe that's the case with Zimmermann and the Cards.
Whatever the reason, St. Louis got to Zimmermann early again Monday. He had given himself a one-run lead with an RBI single in the second inning, but he surrendered it just as quickly as he built it, giving up hits to the first four batters he faced in the bottom of the inning, with David Freese's double and Descalso's single putting the Cards ahead by one. Freese came around to score on a groundout, and Descalso came home on an RBI single by Jon Jay.
After a four-run second inning, Zimmermann bounced back and recorded two outs in the third, but Allen Craig launched a 1-1 fastball down the left-field line, putting St. Louis ahead by four and ending Zimmermann's day after just three innings.
"It's definitely tough. I wanted to go out there and go deep into the game and try to get out of here with two wins. I didn't do my part," Zimmermann said. "I feel like if the starter doesn't go out and do their part, it kind of snowballs with the relievers sometimes, and that's kind of what happened."
Indeed, the Cardinals didn't stop after Zimmermann exited the game. Craig Stammen gave up two runs in one-third of an inning. Michael Gonzalez served up a homer to Carlos Beltran. Sean Burnett allowed four runs -- three earned -- in the eighth on a triple by Jay, Beltran's second homer and Craig's RBI double.
Werth walked through the clubhouse after the game, reminding a few players that they did their job in getting one win -- the common refrain from just about everyone in the Nationals' clubhouse Monday night. Now, Washington heads home, bringing the nation's capital its first playoff baseball game since 1933.
"That's why we've gone through the ups and downs all season, to put ourselves in a position to do something special," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "I don't think anyone said it was going to be easy. You're not going to sweep your way through the playoffs. It's going to be a battle, it's going to be a grind. But that's kind of how the whole year has been for us."