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Washington Nationals drop third straight, 2-1 to St. Louis Cardinals in Busch Stadium...

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Washington rallied in the ninth to avoid being shut out for the 81st straight game to start the season, but the St. Louis Cardinals handed the Nationals their third straight loss overall, 2-1.

Washington Nationals v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

St. Louis Cardinals’ starter Michael Wacha kept the visiting Washington Nationals off the board through six innings tonight, striking out nine, and keeping a 1-0 lead in tact after the Cards’ rookie second baseman Alex Mejia put the home team up early with a two-out RBI single in the bottom of the second inning of what ended up a 2-1 win.

Gio Gonzalez gave up just one run on two hits over seven innings on the mound in St. Louis, settling in after throwing 53 pitches in the first three innings, and striking out nine total on 113 pitches in another solid outing for the 30-year-old lefty.

Gonzalez retired the last 11 batters he faced and 16 of the last 17 after Mejia’s RBI single in the second.

Brett Cecil tossed a scoreless seventh. Seung Hwan Oh and Tyler Lyons combined for a scoreless eighth inning, and Mejia, who connected for his first hit in the majors in the second, hit his first MLB homer off lefty Sammy Solis on the southpaw’s first pitch back off the DL. 2-0 Cardinals.

Trevor Rosenthal came on in the ninth and gave up a leadoff walk to Bryce Harper, a one-out single by Daniel Murphy, and a two-out RBI liner by Stephen Drew that finally got the Nationals on the board, 2-1. Jose Lobaton walked to load the bases with two down, but Adrian Sanchez K’d looking after working the count full. Ballgame.

Cardinals win, 2-1 final.

Nationals now 47-34

HERE’S HOW IT HAPPENED:

Anthony Rendon tracked a pop into foul territory in the first at bat of the Cardinals’ first tonight in Busch Stadium, and went into the stands with Stephen Drew falling on top of him as he made an all-out effort for the first out of the bottom of the first.

Gio Gonzalez gave up one and two-out walks in the Cards’ second, then grooved a 3-2 fastball to Cardinals’ second baseman Alex Mejia (the 8-hitter, Gio. Why?), who lined it to center field for an RBI single and his first major league hit. 1-0 Cardinals.

Michael A. Taylor threw to third to get the trail runner for what should have been out No. 3, but when Rendon chased him back towards second, no one was home. (Where were you, Daniel Murphy?)

Michael Wacha was up to 73 pitches overall after he worked around a leadoff single by Anthony Rendon (2 for 2) in a 15-pitch fifth inning. Still 1-0 Cards.

Gonzalez was up to 84 pitches after five, with just the one run allowed. Wacha struck nine batters out before he issued his first walk of the game to Brian Goodwin with two down in the Nationals’ sixth. Bryce Harepr lined a 1-1 change to center in the next at bat, putting two on for Ryan Zimmerman, who grounded into a force at second. 1-0 St. Louis.

• Michael Wacha’s Line: 6.0 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 9 Ks, 94 P, 63 S, 4/1 GO/FO.

Brett Cecil took over on the mound for St. Louis in the seventh, and retired the Nats in order, preserving the Cardinals’ 1-0 lead.

Gio Gonzalez struck out the side in the seventh, for nine Ks total on 113 pitches, and he retired the last eleven batters he faced and 16 of 17 after Mejia’s RBI single in the second.

Gio Gonzalez’s Line vs Cardinals: 7.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 9 Ks, 113 P, 66 S, 8/0 GO/FO.

Seung Hwan Oh worked around a leadoff error, retiring two batters before Tyler Lyons came on to finish the Nats off in the eighth. Still 1-0 St. Louis.

Sammy Solis returned from the DL and gave up a home run to left field on his first pitch off the DL. Alex Mejia, who collected his first hit in the second, hit his first MLB blast in the eighth. 2-0 Cards.

Trevor Rosenthal took the mound in the ninth inning and walked Bryce Harper in a nine-pitch at bat. Ryan Zimmerman went down swinging. Daniel Murphy singled to right to put two on in front of Anthony Rendon, who sent a grounder first, for what looked like a game-ending double play, but Rosenthal couldn’t find the first base bag as he covered.

Stephen Drew stepped in with runners on the corners and two out and lined an RBI single to left-center, 2-1. Jose Lobaton drew a two-out walk to load the bases and knock Rosenthal out, but Matt Bowman got Adrian Sanchez looking with a 3-2 fastball (outside) in a tense, nine-pitch at bat. Ballgame.

NATIONALS PREGAME NOTES:

  • St. Louis improved to 47-34 in the all-time series with the Washington Nationals with last night’s win and evened the season series with the Nats up at 2-2 after they lost two of three in D.C. earlier this season.
  • Washington’s 8.5-game lead in the NL East after last night’s loss was still the second-largest in the majors.
  • Washington’s offense started the night leading the NL in AVG (.277), OBP (.344), SLG (.474), hits (781), extra-base hits (298), runs scored (447), and RBIs (434), and they were second in the National League in doubles (163), and home runs (121).
  • Washington’s starters lead the NL in Ks (514) and were ranked second in WHIP (1.21), opponents’ batting average (.236), and OPS (.694), and third in ERA (3.77).
  • The Nationals scored just one run last night, but they managed to avoid being shut out for the 79th straight game to start the season.
  • In today’s Nats-themed “Fun with Arbitrary End Points” segment: Heading into tonight’s game, Daniel Murphy was hitting .368 with 11 doubles, a triple, five home runs, 10 walks, and 23 runs scored in the last 29 games.
  • Gio Gonzalez started the night (3-2) with a 2.51 ERA in seven career starts vs the St. Louis Cardinals.

Nationals now 47-34