An offensive eruption reminiscent of 2011 carried the defending World Series champs to a 12-4 Game 2 romp, evening the NL Division Series with the scene shifting east. Not since 1933 has Washington, D.C., hosted a postseason game, and the locals naturally will be high in spirit and anticipation.
While home-field advantage -- the reward for winning more regular-season games (98) than any other Major League team -- is a plus for the Nats, the Cards are not without encouraging prospects.
|10/22/2011||Tex.||WS 3||16-7 W|
|10/19/1982||Mil.||WS 6||13-1 W|
|10/8/2012||Was.||NLDS 2||12-4 W|
|10/16/2011||Mil.||NLCS 6||12-6 W|
|10/10/2011||Mil.||NLDS 2||12-3 W|
|10/1/2002||Ari.||NLDS 1||12-2 W|
|10/10/1946||Bos||WS 4||12-3 W|
The bat rack alongside hitting coach Mark McGwire is suddenly smoking. Carlos Beltran led the way with 880 feet worth of two mammoth home runs in Game 2, and we've all seen how that kind of noise can create a heartland version of a tidal wave.
Just as promising as the offensive outbreak from the Cardinals' perspective are the right arms of Chris Carpenter, Kyle Lohse and Adam Wainwright. When you have starters of that quality lined up to handle Games 3, 4 and 5, if necessary, your confidence soars, locale notwithstanding.
"We feel good going there, especially with our starting pitching," said Beltran, who has unloaded 13 home runs in 25 career postseason games. "I believe we have three big-game pitchers coming up with Carp, Lohse and Wainwright.
"Having Carp back after all those months of rehabbing is great. He knows how to pitch in the postseason. Lohse pitched very well in Atlanta [in the Wild Card showdown], and Wainwright, he's a horse. He didn't start the season like he wanted coming off Tommy John surgery, but in the second half, he was unbelievable. We've all seen what he can do in the postseason."
"Don't forget," he said. "They have a good group of pitchers, too, over there."
The Cardinals pounded Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann for five runs on seven hits in three innings, and the hits and runs kept coming. They did everything right in rebounding from going hitless in eight situations with runners in scoring position in a dispiriting Game 1 loss.
Allen Craig and Daniel Descalso joined Beltran in a long-ball display, and the Cards hammered line drives everywhere. They also flashed some high-quality leather, featuring one otherworldly stab by center fielder Jon Jay. He crashed hard enough against the wall in left-center, robbing Danny Espinosa in the sixth, to shake loose a smile from the frozen image of Tony La Russa.
All of this activity had to please Carpenter, seemingly back in prime-time form after being declared out for the season in anticipation of surgery. He will engage Edwin Jackson, another cool veteran right-hander, in Game 3 on Wednesday afternoon (1 p.m. ET on MLB Network).
Carpenter embraces the challenge of the big stage as few do. The 37-year-old craftsman was 4-0 in six starts as the Cards' guiding force last October.
In 15 career postseason starts, Carpenter is 9-2 with a 3.05 ERA. That's close to Bob Gibson territory. The man deals when it matters, and also, apparently, can talk a good game, inspiring younger, impressionable teammates with a pre-series clubhouse speech.
"You won't find a more fierce competitor than Chris Carpenter," Descalso said. "He's won a Cy Young, pitched in so many big games. It was nice to see a veteran leader step up and make a speech like that before the series starts."
The Redbirds were back to their assertive, confident actions in Game 2. They scored four times with five hits in the second inning before Craig went deep in the third. Descalso unloaded in the fourth against Craig Stammen.
Jaime Garcia struggled with his control and was lifted for pinch-hitter Skip Schumaker during the four-run second. If it seemed a bit premature with St. Louis holding a 2-1 lead, manager Mike Matheny knew he had a day off coming -- followed by Carpenter, Lohse and Wainwright. That's a full house in any deck of Cards.
Lohse, who takes on lefty Ross Detwiler in Game 4 on Thursday, emerged as the ace this season with Carpenter sidelined and Wainwright searching to reclaim all the right stuff in the wake of his surgery.
In the wildest of Wild Card showdowns in Atlanta, Lohse held the Braves to two runs across 5 2/3 innings, sustaining his regular-season success, when he was 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA in 33 starts.
It is the hope of the Cardinal Nation that Lohse's inefficiency in the 2011 postseason is history. He lasted a total of 12 2/3 innings in three starts.
If it goes to a Game 5, Wainwright would inspire confidence matched against anyone in the game. The 6-foot-7 right-hander excelled in the opener, striking out 10 in 5 2/3 innings. His 0.77 ERA in 23 1/3 career postseason games defines October dominance.
Wainwright missed the magic carpet ride last season and yearns to experience the thrill of 2006 -- when he was a shutdown reliever for another championship club -- all over again.
A split of the first two games figures to have Wainwright matched again against Gio Gonzalez, the Nationals' 21-game winner who fought his command (seven walks) in Game 1.
Washington is asking Jackson, and then Detwiler, to face down a Cardinals attack that can be lethal.
"Not every game is going to be perfect like today," said Beltran, "but we have to go there and find a way to win. We have guys who have been in this position many years, but a guy like me, I've never won a championship. I really want one."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less