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Washington Nationals shut down by Cards’ Mike Leake in series finale loss to St. Louis

Dusty Baker talked after Wednesday’s loss about what Mike Leake was able to do to keep the Nationals off-balance in the Nats’ 6-1 loss to the Cardinals.

St Louis Cardinals v Washington Nationals Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

With the score 1-0 St. Louis after the Cardinals got to Max Scherzer early in the top of the first inning, the Washington Nationals got back-to-back hits from Adam Eaton and Anthony Rendon in front of Bryce Harper.

Before Harper had a chance to drive one or both of them in, however, Cardinals’ starter Mike Leake picked Rendon off first, catching the scuffling Nationals’ third baseman off-guard by throwing a strike to Cards’ first baseman Matt Carpenter, who applied the tag as Rendon skip-stepped awkwardly back to the bag.

He was called safe initially, but Rendon was out and the potential rally ended with a strikeout by Harper and groundout by Daniel Murphy.

Leake retired the next 19 batters he faced before Murphy and Ryan Zimmerman hit back-to-back singles with two down in the seventh, though both were stranded in what was then a 3-0 game in the Cardinals’ favor.

“We had him on the ropes in that first inning and then the pickoff and then the strikeout to Bryce,” Dusty Baker recalled after the Nationals’ 6-1 loss.

“It would have been a lot easier with nobody out in that situation and then after that, after he got out of that trouble, then he was very good.”

Leake escaped the first inning jam and never looked back, completing seven scoreless on 104 pitches.

“What a jam that was too,” Cardinals’ manager Mike Matheny told reporters, looking back on the first.

“But a great play by [Carpenter] too, slapping that tag on. That’s a game-changing play for sure.”

“His ball was moving,” Baker said, when asked what made Leake so successful in the series finale.

“His cutter was really working today, and his sinker and he would throw an occasional changeup and breaking ball, and I was just thinking, during the game, my good friend Bobby Welch was [Leake’s] coach at Arizona State. And Welchy used to tell him all the time, ‘Cheese at the knees with movement,’ and that’s what he was doing today.

“He was splitting the plate, more like a left-hand pitcher, with the cutter going one way and the sinker going the other way.”

They had chances against Leake in the first and seventh, but the Nationals scored a run on Trevor Rosenthal in the bottom of the eighth, and had another opportunity to tie it up with Harper working the count full with runners on first and third and Brett Cecil on the mound before lining out to the left side.

Jedd Gyorko, who was shaded toward short, was able to lunge toward third to snag the liner, prompting a frustrated Harper to slam his bat and helmet to the ground.

“I think that was an awesome at bat,” Baker said. “Usually they give him that line, but he had just hit one down that line a couple days ago. Usually that guy is not [there].

“But, they were playing their defense to how they were pitching him. That was an awesome at bat.

“We might have been off to the races on that one because that ball is down in that corner and with Anthony at first there was a heck of a chance that we had a tie ballgame, so that was a tremendous at bat, and you could tell by his frustration after that.”

A half-inning later, it was a 6-1 ballgame after Stephen Piscotty took Joe Blanton deep to left-center for a three-run blast.

St. Louis salvaged a win in the finale of the three-game set, but Washington took the series.