In spite of a one-out walk in the top of the first, Washington Nationals' right-hander Jordan Zimmermann was on his way off the mound with a 13-pitch inning when Nats' third baseman Anthony Rendon misfired on the throw to second while trying to start an inning-ending 5-4-3.
Rendon's throw was wide and it pulled second baseman Danny Espinosa off the bag, so both runners were safe and both scored one out later when St. Louis Cardinals' catcher Tony Cruz lined to right on an 0-1 slider.
Lance Lynn somehow managed to turn a 93 mph fastball inside out for and RBI line drive to right in the at bat that followed and the visiting Cards took advantage of the Nats' error to get out to another early lead in what ended up a 4-3 win in the nation's capital.
The Cardinals went up 3-0 early, but didn't add to their lead until the seventh as they put runners on but failed to drive them in until Matt Holliday lined a two-out RBI single to left on an 0-1 fastball out over the plate that ended up being the Nationals' starter 100th and last pitch of the night. St. Louis led 4-1 at that point. Zimmermann gave up seven hits, four runs, one earned and two walks. He struck out six and got nine ground ball outs from the Cards.
"[Zimmermann] pitched well," Nationals' Manager Matt Williams told reporters after the loss.
"He got in a situation with Holliday in his last inning that he gave up a base hit, but other than that he pitched well enough to win today. We'll work on it again tomorrow."
The Nationals worked their way back into the game with a run in the fifth on a solo home by second baseman Danny Espinosa and runs in the eighth and ninth innings. Anthony Rendon doubled in a run in the eighth. Zach Walters walked with one down in the ninth and then beat a throw to second on a Denard Span grounder to the mound on which Cardinals' closer Trevor Rosenthal made an ill-advised and late throw to second. Both runners moved up on a balk by Rosenthal and Span scored on Kevin Frandsen's sac fly.
Jayson Werth stepped in with the tying run at third, but struck out to end the game.
"I feel like we made a couple of minor mistakes today that cost us," Williams said. "But we were in the game."
"We had Jayson at the plate with the tying run at third and we'll take that every day... against one of the best closers in the game," Williams continued. "So, we'll take that every day, so there are positives and there are negatives to it, but we were in it again and that's a good sign."
Washington was 1 for 7 with runners in scoring position in what ended up a one-run game. They did, however, have their opportunities, and as Williams said, they were 90 feet away from tying the Cardinals after beating the defending NL Central Champs on Friday night to even the four-game series up at one game a piece.
"It's what any team would want," Williams said. "With the heart of their order coming to the plate. With the ability to tie the game or win the game. It's what you want. And we'll take that opportunity every day."
Bryce Harper should have been part of the "heart of the order" facing Rosenthal in the ninth inning.
He was benched by that point though, with Williams sitting Harper down for what he said was "lack of hustle" after the 21-year-old, 2010 no.1 overall pick failed to run out a weak grounder to the pitcher in the bottom of the sixth.
"We made an agreement," Williams explained. "He and I made an agreement. This team made an agreement, that when we play the game, we hustle at all times. That we play the game with intensity and the willingness to win and as it turned out, his spot came up, Kevin Frandsen put on a nice AB against Rosenthal, but [Harper's] spot came up with the ability to win the game and that's a shame for his teammates."
The loss was the Nationals eighth in the last nine game against the Cardinals.
Washington has been outscored 13-6 by St. Louis through three games of the current four-game set. After Adam Waingwright's complete game shutout on Thursday, Michael Wacha held the Nationals to three runs on five hits in seven innings of work and in the third game of four, Lance Lynn gave up just one run on five hits in 5 2/3 before the Nats scored two against the Cardinals' bullpen.
The Nationals were able to take advantage of a rare error by Cardinals' catcher Yadier Molina which followed a pitch in the dirt by Wacha that somehow got away from the veteran backstop. They scored two runs on the botched play for a 3-1 win on Friday, but even then Williams noted that it was not easy to get anything going against the Cards so they needed to take what they could get.
"That's why they've won so many ballgames," he said. "They've got the ability to shut you down too, so, you have to continue to think about any way to score."
In the series finale today, the Nationals will have to think of ways to score on 23-year-old right-hander Shelby Miller, who is (2-0) with a 0.71 ERA in two starts and 12 2/3 IP vs Washington thus far in his major league career...
• Here's the Nationals' lineup for the series finale with St. Louis: