Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Busch Stadium hosts the Nationals for a quick, two-game series.
Whatever you want to call it, this is a big game for the Nats, who for the first time this season come to the ballpark riding a three-game losing streak. Not that a four-game streak and a 20-19 record would be devastating to a club few would have expected to be in this position in mid-May, but it would erase some of the good vibes the Nationals have built over the last couple of weeks.
There's also some added emphasis on winning tonight because the Cardinals will send ace Chris Carpenter to the mound tomorrow. The last thing the Nats want is to have to beat Carpenter to avoid a five-game losing streak. Tonight's starter, Kyle Lohse, is much more beatable (he's 3-13 since last April).
Of course, if this one is close late, Albert Pujols will be looming in the St. Louis lineup. How much would you love to see Pujols step to the plate in a one-run game in the eighth inning, when all of a sudden the bullpen door swings open and Drew Storen comes trotting in to make his big-league debut? (OK, that may be too much to ask for, but it would make for a great story, wouldn't it?)
Check back for updates throughout...
NATIONALS AT CARDINALS
Where: Busch Stadium
Gametime: 8:15 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Cloudy, 58 degrees, Wind 11 mph in from LF
RF Willie Harris
2B Cristian Guzman
3B Ryan Zimmerman
LF Josh Willingham
C Ivan Rodriguez
1B Adam Kennedy
SS Ian Desmond
CF Roger Bernadina
P Craig Stammen
SS Felipe Lopez
RF Ryan Ludwick
LF Matt Holliday
1B Albert Pujols
CF Colby Rasmus
3B David Freese
C Yadier Molina
2B Skip Schumaker
P Kyle Lohse
4:24 p.m. -- Couple of interesting notes about the Cardinals lineup ... Albert Pujols is batting cleanup for the first time since May 30, 2003, I suppose as a way to provide protection for Matt Holliday. Then again, that also ensures Colby Rasmus will be pitched to in every key situation tonight, because the Nats will just intentionally walk Pujols. ... Meanwhile, Felipe Lopez has been activated off the DL (he had an elbow injury) and is taking over for struggling Brendan Ryan as starting shortstop and leadoff man. (Just as long as he doesn't come in to pitch the 19th inning.)
4:32 p.m. -- And some programming notes ... MASN will televise Stephen Strasburg's next two stars (tomorrow at 11:30 p.m. tape delayed and May 23 live at 5 p.m.). ... And if you want visual proof that I'm in St. Louis (though the above photo should confirm that) I'll be on CSN's Washington Post Live at 5:15 p.m. and then on SportsNight at 6:30 p.m.
6:52 p.m. -- If you didn't see the new post on the homepage, Adam Dunn has been scratched from the lineup. He's still suffering from flu-like symptoms, though he's again available to pinch-hit. Adam Kennedy is now at first base, with Cristian Guzman moving to second base and Ian Desmond entering the lineup at shortstop.
7:39 p.m. -- I'm sure you're all looking for stuff on Drew Storen, and I assure you there's plenty of material to share. I'm putting that all together right now for a story that will up on CSNwashington.com shortly. But here's a tease, with Storen's reaction to finding out during yesterday's Syracuse-Pawtucket game that he was being called up to the majors: "It was such a swing of emotions. I was into the game, and all of a sudden I'm out of the game and then out of the ... I got sent to the big leagues. It was like, 'What's going on?' I was just sitting in the shower for five minutes like this [staring straight ahead]. [Matt] Chico was in there talking to me. He's like, 'It's alright, man. Just relax.' 'I know. I got so many different things going through my head right now.' It was cool."
7:41 p.m. -- And if you're wondering whether Storen will pitch in tonight's game or not, Jim Riggleman said he'd prefer to get the kid in so he can get his feet wet. But the manager really prefers it come in a lopsided situation, not a tight ballgame late. That said, if the situation calls for it, Riggleman won't hesitate to use him.
8:14 p.m. -- And we're underway, with a ball from Kyle Lohse to Willie Harris.
8:19 p.m. -- A promising top of the first is squandered. Ryan Zimmerman's drive to right-center comes up a few feet short of clearing the fence. And Willie Harris does his best Nyjer Morgan impersonation and gets gunned down trying to steal second. That's the 17th time a Nats baserunner has been caught stealing in 46 tries, far and away the tops in the NL.
8:35 p.m. -- What's the last thing you want to do with two outs and Albert Pujols waiting in the on-deck circle? Walk the guy in front of him. Needless to say, Craig Stammen paid the price for putting Matt Holliday on. Pujols only singled (a minor victory for Stammen) but Colby Rasmus followed with an RBI single to right. And then David Freese blasted a two-run triple off the right-field wall. And then Yadier Molina singled home another run to right. That's four runs, all with two outs. Nats trail 4-0 after one.
8:47 p.m. -- Only in St. Louis -- ONLY in St. Louis -- can you walk up to get a burger at the Hardee's stand on the stadium concourse and have the following exchange with the cashier. "You from Washington?" "Yep." "When are they calling up Strasburg?" "Two weeks." "Yeah, they're going to save a couple million dollars in arbitration because of that." When they say this is a great baseball town, they mean it.
8:54 p.m. -- I asked Jim Riggleman before the game about how he chose to start Roger Bernadina in center field and Willie Harris in right field. Riggleman's rationale was that Bernadina can cover more ground and that Harris is more of a utilityman than a true outfielder. Well, Harris has had an adventure out there in right field already. Not saying Bernadina would have made all of those plays. But I'm not sure Riggleman knows how much Willie has played center field in his career or places much value in the idea of Bernadina as the everyday right fielder.
9:28 p.m. -- Whoa, Riggleman just got tossed by plate umpire Gerry Davis for arguing something from the dugout. Must have been balls and strikes.
9:30 p.m. -- Wait, correct that. Riggleman remains in the dugout. Davis definitely tossed someone in the dugout. Stay tuned.
9:31 p.m. -- Rick Eckstein was the guilty party. He's gone.
9:33 p.m. -- On the bright side, the Nationals are trying to claw their way back into this game. They just pushed across two runs in the fifth, thanks in part to a wild throw by Skip Schumaker and a productive groundout by Willie Harris. Craig Stammen has settled down since his disastrous first inning. But that inning was so bad, his margin for error is down to nothing. Can't afford to make another mistake the rest of the night.
9:54 p.m. -- OK, you think Bernadina might have had some flashbacks there when he went back to catch Colby Rasmus' drive to the wall in center field? He broke his ankle on that exact same play a year ago. Give him credit for not pulling up short this time. He reacted naturally and made a fabulous catch.
10:07 p.m. -- Mike Morse is pinch-hitting for Stammen, so a reliever will come in for the bottom of the seventh. But it's not Drew Storen. Doug Slaten currently warming up.
10:09 p.m. -- Major chess match between Riggleman and La Russa. Riggs sends up Alberto Gonzalez to face Trevor Miller. La Russa counters with Jason Motte. Riggs pulls back Gonzalez and sends up Adam Dunn. No matter how this plays out, Riggleman just outmanaged La Russa.
10:16 p.m. -- Then again, La Russa probably knew Dunn would whiff at a 3-2 fastball from Motte at his eyeballs. Bad AB there by Dunn, and the Nats still trail 4-2 at the stretch.
10:19 p.m. -- Now warming in the Nats' bullpen: Drew Storen.
10:22 p.m. -- Now pitching for the #Nats: Drew Storen. Big-league debut against ... Felipe Lopez.
10:33 p.m. -- Wow, how's THAT for an eventful debut? After plunking Ludwick, Storen goes to a full count against Holliday. One more ball and he's facing Pujols with the bases loaded. What does he do? Fires a 94 mph fastball in on Holliday's hands and gets him to whiff at it for strike three. You can breathe, now, Drew. Nice debut.
10:47 p.m. -- If only the Nats could score a couple runs and cap this momentous occasion off. Unfortunately, they've been stuck on two since the fifth inning. Matt Capps, who hasn't pitched since Wednesday, now on the mound trailing by two. Pudge, Kennedy and Desmond due up in the ninth to face Cardinals closer Ryan Franklin.
10:56 p.m. -- You had a feeling Capps was due to get hit around a little, especially in a non-save situation. Three singles in the eighth, and the Cards now hold a comfortable 6-2 lead.
11:07 p.m. -- The losing streak has reached four. A wretched first inning from Craig Stammen, combined with a lack of clutch hitting from the heart of the Nats lineup, results in a 6-2 loss to St. Louis. Not even Drew Storen's nice debut could salvage this one. At 20-19, the Nationals will need to beat Chris Carpenter tomorrow night to avoid a five-game losing streak heading home.