ST. LOUIS — Rookies in the postseason, the Washington Nationals played like poised veterans.
The Nationals escaped a bases-loaded jam in the seventh inning, Tyler Moore blooped a two-out, two-run single in the eighth, and Washington beat the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals, 3-2, Sunday in an NL Division Series opener.
The Nationals have just four players with postseason experience on the roster. But they have the lead.
“Not many people have probably watched too many Nationals games, but we have a great starting rotation and a great bullpen,” said Ian Desmond, who singled for his third hit in the go-ahead rally.
The Nationals, who had never come close to making the playoffs since moving from Montreal for the 2005 season, overcame a wild start by 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez to limit the Cardinals to just three hits.
“All the credit in the world goes to the bullpen,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve been saying it all year. The reason why we’ve been so successful is these guys come in and shut it down.”
Rookie reliever Ryan Mattheus needed just two pitches to bail out the Nationals in the seventh with St. Louis ahead 2-1. Moore, another rookie, put them ahead soon after that, Tyler Clippard worked around an error in the eighth, and Drew Storen saved it with a 1-2-3 ninth.
The NL East champion Nationals led the majors with 98 wins this season, and brought postseason baseball to Washington for the first time since 1933. The Nats go for a 2-0 series lead today when Jordan Zimmermann opposes Jaime Garcia.
“This team is not hanging our heads,” St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright said. “We can come back and win this easily.
St. Louis wasted a 10-strikeout gem by Wainwright, and failed to capitalize enough on Gonzalez’s career high-tying seven walks.
Mattheus diffused a bases-loaded, none-out threat in the seventh, getting cleanup man Allen Craig to ground into a forceout at the plate and then inducing a double-play grounder from Yadier Molina. Craig led the National League with a .400 average with runners in scoring position, and Molina batted .321 in those situations.
“It was a big moment,” Mattheus said. “It gave us life. The guys said, ‘Hey, we can win this ballgame.’”
A standing room crowd of 47,078 at Busch Stadium bundled up for a game that began in 54-degree chill and featured kaleidoscope late-afternoon shadows that bedeviled hitters for several innings.
Matt Holliday, St. Louis’ No. 3 hitter, said it made facing Gonzalez more difficult: “He’s hard to hit when you can see well and even harder when you can’t.”