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Cardinals blow big early lead, but win 7-5 over Nationals to set up rubber match

The Washington Nationals fell behind 5-0 early, but rallied to tie it with a five-run fifth only to lose it in the eighth when a one-out walk came around to score on an RBI double to left by St. Louis Cardinals' second baseman Kolten Wong. 7-5 final.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

5. Fister vs St. Louis: In his first two starts this season, 31-year-old Washington Nationals' right-hander Doug Fister put up a 0.69 ERA (1 ER, 13 IP), a 3.46 FIP, five walks (3.46 BB/9), five Ks (3.46 K/9) and a stingy .204/.273/.286 line against. Facing the Philadelphia Phillies last week in Nationals Park, in the second of back-to-back outings against the Nationals' NL East rivals, Fister walked four batters in 6 ⅔ innings pitched, with two of the four walks in his final inning of work, a 20-pitch frame in which he threw just eight of twenty pitches for strikes.

"I think he got a little tired in the last inning," Nats' skipper Matt Williams told reporters after what ended up a 5-2 win.

"Other than that he was good. In command the whole game, threw the ball where he wanted to. So I thought he was really good."

"Usually ground balls are to the righties, balls sinking down and away from them, but lefties have a little bit different swing, so a lot of lefties in there." -Matt Williams on number of fly balls from Philly hitters off Fister

"Ball was up a little bit tonight," Fister said. "I was getting it on kind of the black part of the plate, but balls were up, and so when than happens, it gets in the air a little bit more, and guys were running things down today, so it was good."

Fister and his manager were asked after the game about seeing more fly balls than usual for a Fister start, especially for a pitcher with a 49.1% ground ball percentage over the course of his career.

"It's a little bit the team we're facing too," Williams said, referring to the Phillies. "Usually ground balls are to the righties, balls sinking down and away from them, but lefties have a little bit different swing, so a lot of lefties in there."

"I'm really working for the ground balls," Fister explained. "But being up in the zone, it's a little easier for them to hit the ball in the air. But, yeah, I mean, lefty, I'm trying to work away, and if it happens to run up like that then they do get to it."

Tonight in the nation's capital, Fister was facing the St. Louis Cardinals, who hit two home runs and scored four runs on him in his only previous outing against them, last June in Busch Stadium.

Cards' skipper Mike Matheny's lineup tonight was heavily left-handed as well with Matt Carpenter, Jason Heyward, Matt Adams, Jon Jay and Kolten Wong all in against Fister.

One of the lefties, Carpenter, hit a long fly ball off Fister in the first at bat, taking a 2-2 two-seamer to deep right field for a solo blast that landed in the second deck above the bullpen. 1-0 Cardinals before an out was recorded, and a 19-pitch first for Fister.

Yadier Molina dumped a two-out single into short left in the Cards' second, and Kolten Wong took Fister deep on a 1-2 fastball in the at bat that followed, making it 3-0 St. Louis when he cleared the high wall in right for his first home run of the season.

Another 19-pitch inning ended when John Lackey grounded out to third. 38 total for Fister after two.

Jason Heyward singled to center with one down in the Cardinals' third, and scored one out later on an RBI double to left field by Matt Adams, who sent a low liner by the third base bag. 4-0. A two-out walk to Johnny Peralta put two on with two out in front of Jon Jay, and an error by Ryan Zimmerman on a grounder to first allowed the Cards' fifth run to score. 5-0 after two and a half. 25-pitch frame, 63 total.

Kolten Wong singled to right to start the Cardinals' fourth after the Nationals rallied to tie it up at 5-5, but after a sac bunt moved him up to second, he was thrown out trying to take third on a pitch in the dirt that Wilson Ramos quickly recovered. Matt Carpenter walked with two down, but a groundout to second by Jason Heyward ended a 14-pitch frame that left Fister at 77 overall after four.

Denard Span made an awkward/spectacular catch going back on a line drive to center off Matt Holliday's bat for the first out of the fifth. Fister threw a 2-2 change by Matt Adams for out no.2. Johnny Peralta hit a two-out single to center, but Danny Espinosa made a range-y play on a grounder up the middle off Jon Jay's bat and stepped on second to end a 16-pitch frame that pushed Fister up to 93 pitches.

Fister came back out for the sixth, and added two groundouts to his line. A line drive to short off John Lackey's bat ended a quick, 11-pitch frame that left him at 104 pitches overall.

Doug Fister's Line: 6.0 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 3 Ks, 2 HR, 104 P, 69 S, 11/2 GO/FO.

4. Lackey's streaking: St. Louis Cardinals' starter John Lackey started tonight's game with a streak of ten scoreless innings going over his first two starts. Lackey, 36, was facing Washington for just the second time in his career and the first time since 2008, when he held the Nationals to one run in eight innnings back when he was with the Los Angeles Angels.

Seven of the scoreless innings in Lackey's streak came last time out when he held the Milwaukee Brewers to five hits and one walk, striking out eight in what ended up a 4-0 win for the Cardinals.

Acquired from the Boston Red Sox at the non-waiver trade deadline last July 31st, Lackey was (3-3) in 10 starts for the Cardinals, with a 4.30 ERA, 4.27 FIP, 15 walks (2.23 BB/9) and 48 Ks (7.12 K/9) in 60 ⅔ IP.

Lackey's second career start against the Nationals began with a scoreless 17-pitch frame in which he worked around a two-out double by Jayson Werth. A 12-pitch, 1-2-3 second extended his scoreless inning streak to 12-straight.

Doug Fister, Denard Span and Ian Desmond hit back-to-back-to-back one-out singles off Lackey in the bottom of the third, however. Jayson Werth stepped in with the bases loaded and hit a sac fly to right to get the Nationals on the board and end Lackey's scoreless inning streak at twelve.

Bryce Harper took a two-out walk to load the bases back up in front of Ryan Zimmerman, who hit a grounder to first that Matt Adams couldn't handle. Zimmerman beat the big first baseman (and Lackey) to the bag and the Nats cut the Cardinals' lead to three, 5-2. Yunel Escobar's three-run double to left field in the next at bat cleared the bases and tied things up at 5-5 after three.

A scoreless 18-pitch fifth left Lackey at 90 pitches overall after five. A two-out double to left by Tyler Moore in the sixth ended Lackey's night.

John Lackey's Line: 5.2 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 4 Ks, 98 P, 61 S, 10/2 GO/FO.

3. Spantastic?: After a 2 for 5 game in the Nationals' series-opening win over the Cardinals last night in the nation's capital, Denard Span was 3 for 10 two games into his 2015 campaign, the start of which was delayed by surgery in early March to repair a right core muscle injury. It was, of course, the second surgery in the last six months for Span, who had a sports hernia repaired in December.

"He battled, he fouled off changeups, fastballs, sliders, and ended up putting one in play and ended up getting on first base." -Matt Williams on Denard Span's ninth-inning at bat vs Cards last night

Matt Williams talked about Span's last trip to the plate in the bottom of the ninth as being a particulary important at bat for the 31-year-old outfielder. Span battled hard-throwing Cards' right-hander Jordan Walden for ten pitches, worked the count full, and sent a grounder first that Matt Adams bobbled. Span reached safely, and the two runners on when he stepped up moved into scoring position at second and third in what was then a 1-1 game.

Neither runner scored, but Span's at bat impressed his manager.

"I think that Denard's last at bat was a really important one," Williams said. "Not only for us, but for him. He battled, he fouled off changeups, fastballs, sliders, and ended up putting one in play and ended up getting on first base to load the bases for us. But that's important for him. Coming off the disabled list, timing is good, looks comfortable at the plate. He's running fine. All of those things are positives for us."

In his third game of the season tonight, Span grounded out in his first at bat, but singled to right field the second time up as part of a rally off John Lackey that resulted in the Nationals' first run of the game scoring in what ended up a five-run inning.

Lackey dropped a grounder back to the mound from Span in the fourth, then threw it away for a two-error gaffe that resulted in Span standing on second with two down. He was stranded on the basepaths, however.

Back out in the field, Span made a twisting, awkward grab of a line drive to center for the first out of the fifth.

Welcome back, Denard.

2. Turning Point(s): Doug Fister left two two-seamers up in the zone to two lefties in the first two innings and gave up two home runs, a solo blast to right by Matt Carpenter and a two-run homer by Kolten Wong. He also managed to get four ground ball outs from the first nine batters he faced, but the mistake pitches hurt early and put the Nationals behind 3-0 after two.

St. Louis was up 5-0 before Washington finally strung together some hits off John Lackey in the third.

If there was any one turning point in the Nationals' five-run third, it would have to be Bryce Harper's base-loading two-out walk.

Jayson Werth hit a bases-loaded sac fly to get the Nationals on the board, but Harper took a free pass from Lackey to load them back up and Ryan Zimmerman and Yunel Escobar followed with an RBI "single" and three-run double, respectively, to tie things up at 5-5 after three.

A one-out walk to Jon Jay in the Cardinals' eighth came back to haunt Nats' right-hander Blake Treinen. Cardinals' catcher Yadier Molina singled to move Jay around to third and Kolten Wong drove him in with an RBI double to left that made it 6-5 St. Louis.

1. The Wrap-Up: Tyler Moore hit for Doug Fister with two down in the Nats' sixth and ended Lackey's night with a line drive double to left. Kevin Siegrist took over on the mound against Denard Span and got a groundout to second to end the threat.

Matt Grace made his MLB debut in the top of the seventh and retired the first two batters he faced before issuing a two-out walk to Matt Holliday. Matt Adams stepped in against the Nats' lefty with a runner on first and grounded back to the mound for the third out of the frame. 15-pitch inning. Still 5-5.

Bryce Harper walked in a two-out at bat against Siegrist, but got picked off and thrown out at second to end the Nats' seventh.

Blake Treinen issued a one-out walk to Jon Jay in the Cardinals' eighth, and Yadier Molina hit a single to center to send Jay around to third. Kolten Wong stepped in with runners on the corners and one out and hit an RBI double down the left field line to break up the tie. 6-5 St. Louis. Mark Reynolds hit for Siegrist with two on and one out and went down swinging at an 0-2 slider for out no.2. An intentional walk to Matt Carpenter brought Jason Heyward up with the bases loaded and he K'd looking at a 96 mph heater to leave them loaded. 6-5 Cards.

Rafael Martin gave up a big blast of a home run by Matt Adams in the Cards' ninth. Adams bounced a 2-2 slider off the facade of the second deck in right. 7-5 Cardinals.

Trevor Rosenthal came on for the save in the ninth and retired the side in order. Ballgame.

Nationals now 7-8