Washington Nationals' closer Drew Storen told ESPN980's Kevin Sheehan and Thom Loverro in an interview on the Sports Fix on Thursday afternoon that he'd be watching the Wild Card Game tonight between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Atlanta Braves closely. The 24-year-old closer said it didn't matter which team the Nationals faced when it came to the potential NLDS opponents. "I really have no preference," Storen said, "Both are good teams and it's going to be a grind regardless. We see both of those teams a ton starting even in Spring Training. We know them inside out and they know us inside out." The Nats were 10-8 against their NL East rivals from Atlanta and 4-3 against St. Louis. As Davey Johnson put it simply earlier this week, "You've got to beat the teams you play." Washington had to wait until tonight to find out who they would be facing on Sunday afternoon in the first postseason game by a D.C.-based team since 1933.
As they watched the game, the Nats saw Atlanta jump out to a 2-0 lead when St. Louis' starter Kyle Lohse walked Dan Uggla with two down in front of Braves' backstop David Ross, then gave up a two-run home run a pitch after Ross had been granted a late time out by home plate umpire Jeff Kellogg. Ross had swung away at the first 1-2 pitch he saw, even after he'd been given time, missing an 80 mph change from Lohse a pitch after he'd fouled off a 90 mph fastball, but when the Braves' catcher saw the same pitch on the next offering from the Cards' starter he crushed it and watched as it sailed over the left field wall to give Atlanta the early lead.
A Chipper Jones' error in the fourth ended up costing the Braves their lead. The veteran infielder threw away a potential double play ball from Matt Holliday after Kris Medlen had given up a leadoff single by Carlos Beltran and both runners ended up scoring with Beltran coming in on an RBI double by Allen Craig and Holliday scoring on a Yadier Molina groundout. Craig took third on Molina's RBI out and then scored on a sac fly to center by David Freese for a 3-2 Cardinals' lead.
The Braves had the lead again, on the scoreboard at least, for just a few seconds in the bottom of the fourth when Andrelton Simmons bunted with runners on first and third and one out and had the throw to first by Kyle Lohse bounce off his helmet. Both runners scored, or appeared to for a moment, but they were sent back to their bases when Simmons was called out for interference, for running on the infield grass when he was hit by the Cards' starter's throw. Kris Medlen K'd swinging in the next at bat and the Cards kept their lead after four innings in Turner Field.
Kris Medlen shook David Ross off, going with a 1-2 fastball inside to Matt Holliday with one down in the Cardinals' sixth and the St. Louis' outfielder, who finished the 2012 season with a .295/.379/.497 line, 36 doubles and 27 HRs in 157 games and 688 plate appearances over which he was worth +5.2 fWAR, collected his first career hit off Medlen (in just 5 PAs against) when he lined the 90 mph two-seamer he got out to left for a 4-2 Cards' lead.
Kyle Lohse lasted 5.2 innings against the Braves, giving up just two runs on six hits, including the Ross HR and walking one batter while striking out six. Lance Lynn finished off the sixth. After the Cardinals took advantage of two Braves' errors to score two more runs in the top of the seventh and go up 6-2, Cards' right-hander Edward Mujica gave up a run in the bottom of the inning when Atlanta outfielder Jose Constanza tripled and scored on an RBI groundout to make it 6-3, but Mujica recorded two outs before Mark Rzepczynski came on to get the final out of the seventh for St. Louis.
Mitchell Boggs got in trouble in the bottom of the eighth, giving up a leadoff walk to Freddie Freeman and a one-out single by David Ross, but when a pop to short left fell in between Cards' shortstop Pete Kozma and left fielder Matt Holliday, the umpires somehow ruled it an infield fly, setting off a ridiculous scene in Turner Field which saw Braves' manager Fredi Gonzalez arguing vociferously with the umps while fans showered the field with debris in protest of the umpire's game-altering decision. The fans caused a serious (15-20 minute) delay to the game. The Braves protested the call on the field.
• Infield fly?:
The Braves came up empty once play resumed with Brian McCann walking to load the bases before Cards' right-hander Jason Motte striking Michael Bourn out to end the bottom of the eighth. Craig Kimbrel threw a quick 1-2-3 top of the ninth, but Atlanta came up empty against Motte in the bottom of the ninth and the Cardinals advanced to the NLDS with the 6-3 win, earning the right to face the Washington Nationals.
The Nationals and Cardinals played seven times this season with Washington winning three of four at home in late August then dropping two of three on the road in the next to last series of the regular season in late September. Before the series in August, Davey Johnson lamented the fact that the Nats didn't really get a good look at the Cardinals until late in the season with this year's schedule, but asked about his team's peformance against their potential opponents this year, the manager told reporters earlier this week, "It's nice when we know we can handle them," but when it comes to the postseason, "... you throw all that out the window."
There's no postseason history between any of the three Washington-based teams and the Cardinals, though the old Washington Senators clinched their last postseason appearance in 1933 with a win over the Rogers Hornsby-managed '33 St. Louis Browns in a September 29th game that season. The Washington Nationals play their first postseason game of 2012 at 3:07 pm EDT on Sunday and now they know they'll be flying to St. Louis tomorrow to start the five-game set with the Cardinals with two games in Busch Stadium.