Tuesday October 9, 2012

ST. LOUIS -- Never count out the Cardinals in October -- especially after they lose a series opener.

Carlos Beltran hit the last two of the Cardinals’ four homers and St. Louis chased an ineffective Jordan Zimmermann early in a 12-4 rout of the Washington Nationals on Monday that tied their NL division series at one game apiece.

"We know this offense has the potential to do this," Cardinals rookie manager Mike Matheny said. "It was nice to see this, and hopefully it becomes contagious and the guys just keep going."

Allen Craig and Daniel Descalso also went deep to help the defending World Series champions build a big lead that compensated for a two-inning start from an ailing Jaime Garcia. Craig hit his fifth career postseason homer and scored three times.

Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche hit consecutive homers in the fifth for the Nationals, who head home for the remainder of the best-of-five series. But the NL East champions are without All-Star ace Stephen Strasburg, shut down for the rest of the season early last month to protect his surgically repaired arm.

Game 3 is Wednesday afternoon at Nationals Park, the first postseason contest in the nation’s capital since the original Senators played the New York Giants in the 1933 World Series. Edwin Jackson starts for Washington against longtime Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter, who made only three starts during the regular season because of injury.

"Today, for us, was a must-win game," Beltran said.

The Cardinals seem to live for those. They lost the division series and NLCS openers last fall, then finished strong in the World Series after spotting Texas a 3-2 lead.

So, they’re on familiar ground. And once again, as a wild card.

"We knew how big this game was for us," center fielder Jon Jay said. "We’ve seen it all year -- when we are able to do that, we are pretty dangerous."

There were no lineup changes in Game 2 of the division series, just a lot more clutch hitting from players accustomed to October pressure.

Beltran homered twice in the postseason for the third time in his career, connecting in the sixth off Mike Gonzalez and eighth off Sean Burnett. Jay had two hits and three RBIs, plus an outstanding catch at the center-field wall to deprive Danny Espinosa of extra bases in the sixth.

St. Louis was 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position during Game 1 and totaled just three hits, but the Cardinals had five hits in a four-run second Monday. Descalso hit his first postseason homer in the fourth, a day after getting robbed by Jayson Werth’s leaping catch at the right-field wall, and Beltran’s drive off Gonzalez in the sixth banged off the facade in the third deck in left, estimated at 444 feet.

Shadows creeped past the pitcher’s mound around the third inning and didn’t seem to be as big of an issue in Game 2, which started 1 1/2 hours later than the opener. Both teams had issues with the playing conditions after the opener.

Late last season, after complaints from Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman, the Cardinals said they’d try not to schedule late afternoon games that might be affected.

Nationals rookie Bryce Harper went 1 for 5 and struck out four times. He also was thrown out at third base on an ill-advised attempt to advance. He is 1 for 10 in the series with six strikeouts.

Nationals batters made contact on just four of Garcia’s 24 pitches in the first, threatening with a pair of walks. Garcia went to a full count on five of his first eight hitters, and threw 51 pitches in two innings.