The Washington Nationals hardly looked like postseason newcomers while grinding out a close win over the defending World Series champions.
The Nationals now seek to head home with a commanding lead in their NL division series, and Jordan Zimmermann will try to help by overcoming a rocky history against the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 2 on Monday.
Making the franchise's second playoff appearance and first since 1981, Washington calmly rallied for a 3-2 victory Sunday. The Nationals shut out the Cardinals after the second inning and worked their way out of a bases-loaded jam with no outs in the seventh before Tyler Moore drove in the tying and go-ahead runs on a two-out, pinch-hit single in the eighth.
"Not many people have probably watched too many Nationals games, but we have a great starting rotation and a great bullpen," said shortstop Ian Desmond, who had three singles and scored a run. "They keep us in the ballgame and some timely hits from this kid, and the rest of the guys coming off the bench, that's really been the formula."
Washington will try to head into the first postseason game in the nation's capital since 1933 with a 2-0 lead in the series, and Zimmermann (12-8, 2.94 ERA) is looking to aid that cause by avoiding another miserable performance against St. Louis. He's 0-2 with a 9.12 ERA in five career matchups with the Cardinals, easily his worst showing against any opponent.
St. Louis tagged Zimmermann for a career-high eight runs over a season-low 3 2-3 innings Sept. 1 in Washington, although the right-hander was better at Busch Stadium in his final regular-season start Sept. 29, allowing three runs over 6 1-3 innings in the Nationals' 6-4, 10-inning victory.
The hitters on the Cardinals' playoff roster are a combined 26 for 69 (.377) against him with Yadier Molina going 5 for 11.
"It's going to be tough to shut them completely down," Zimmermann told the Nationals' official website. "They are going to get their runs, but you've just got to keep it to a minimum and try to get out of jams as best you can when you're in a tight spot."
While Zimmermann, who went 3-0 with a 2.61 ERA over his final five starts, will be making his postseason debut, Jaime Garcia (7-7, 3.92) will pitch in his sixth playoff game since the beginning of last October. He went 0-2 with a 4.21 ERA in five starts during the Cardinals' championship run, but the worst of those came on the road and he allowed only six runs over 21 2-3 innings in St. Louis.
"It definitely helps a little bit because you've been out there in a situation like we are right now," he said. "You take what you learned from last year, but you know, I'm just going to try to do the same thing that I try to do every time I go out there. I just give my best and give my team a chance to win. That's all I basically worry about."
Like Zimmermann, Garcia also ended the regular season with some momentum, prevailing in three straight starts and putting up a 2.10 ERA over his final four. He's 3-0 with a 1.61 ERA in his last four home outings.
Garcia, though, gave up six runs and nine hits over 5 1-3 innings in his only matchup with Washington this season Aug. 30. The left-hander's start at Nationals Park was his third following a stint on the 60-day disabled list with a sprained throwing shoulder.
"It's one of those things where they had a really good lineup and a really good team, and made a couple mistakes and paid the consequences," he said.
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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