By Rob Rains
Of all the negative numbers compiled by the Cardinals in losing the first two games of the NL Championship Series, one set probably offers the best summary of what happened on Friday night and Saturday at Busch Stadium.
Jose Martinez came off the bench twice, and had two hits. The rest of the Cardinals matched his hit total, but it took them 55 at-bats to do it.
For the second game in a row, and for only the second time in MLB postseason history, the Cardinals were held without a hit for the first five innings on Saturday en route to a 3-1 loss to the Nationals.
After going 7 2/3 innings until Martinez got their first, and only, hit on Friday night against Anibal Sanchez, they faced hometown star Max Scherzer on Saturday and did not get their first hit until Paul Goldschmidt led off the seventh with a single to left.
“It hasn’t been our best two games,” Goldschmidt said. “We’ve got to try to be better … It’s pretty obvious you score one run you’re not going to win many games. We haven’t played well enough. Give their guys credit, they’ve pitched really well. When they made mistakes we haven’t hit them.”
The only other time a team had two starters who did not allow a hit in the first five innings of consecutive postseason games was by the Tigers in the first two games of the 2013 AL Championship Series. The pitchers were Sanchez and Scherzer.
“Sanchez was literally painting the whole box,” said Kolten Wong. “He never really got any pitches over the middle. Then you have Scherzer, with the shadows. You can face Scherzer on a clear day and it’s tough. But that’s what you play this game for, and that’s why we’re in this situation. We’ve fought our way to get to this point and we’re going to fight our way out of it.
“I think when you are facing this pitching staff you always have a tendency to try to do too much. You know how good they are. You know you don’t want to fall behind because you know they can really shut down a lineup. We’re always up for the competition.”
The Cardinals finished with three hits on Saturday, getting their only run when Paul DeJong singled with two outs in the eighth and scored on a double by Martinez.
Representing the tying run, Dexter Fowler – after Martinez won a 10-pitch battle with Sean Doolittle — flew out on the first pitch to kill the rally.
The loss left the Cardinals in an 0-2 hole as the best-of-seven series moves to Washington for game three on Monday night. In a best-of-seven series, the home team has lost the first two games of a series 25 times and only three times has rallied to win the series.
For the Cardinals to even get the series back to St. Louis, they will have to win two of the three games in Washington.
“We’re obviously struggling,” Wong said. “You get no hit for seven innings two nights in a row you’re struggling. It’s common sense but it’s baseball. You’re hitting a round ball with a round bat against guys that are really dang good at throwing that round ball. We’ve just got to make adjustments and get back to our small-ball game.”
Until Goldschmidt’s single, the Cardinals’ starters went 62 consecutive plate appearances without getting a hit, dating back to the fourth inning of game five of the NLDS on Wednesday.
“You can’t ignore the fact we have been shut down pretty much for two games in a row,” said Cardinals’ manager Mike Shildt. “We won’t make excuses for it. There’s a lot of variables to it. But the reality is we haven’t been able to get it done.”
Nobody has struggled more than Fowler, who has just two hits in 29 at-bats in seven postseason games.
The tough-luck loser was Adam Wainwright, who allowed just one run through seven innings before giving up a two-run double to Adam Eaton in the eighth that sealed the Nationals’ victory.
“Pitching always wins these kinds of situations,” Wainwright said. “Their pitchers were out of this world. There’s nothing more I can say.”
Here is how Saturday’s game broke down:
At the plate: Until Goldschmidt’s single, the Cardinals had just two baserunners. Wong walked, and stole second, in the first and Fowler walked in the sixth … So far in the postseason the Cardinals have a combined average of .207. Since Wednesday, they have scored one run in their last 24 innings.
On the mound: Wainwright finished with a postseason career high of 11 strikeouts, the most by a Cardinals’ starter since Bob Gibson’s 17 strikeouts against the Tigers in game 1 of the 1968 World Series. He allowed just four hits through the first six innings, one of which was a home run by eighth-place hitter Michael A. Taylor in the second. The only walk allowed by Wainwright was an intentional walk to Anthony Rendon before he came out of the game in the eighth. In his two postseason starts, Wainwright has allowed three runs in 15 innings, an ERA of 1.80.
Key stat: The last time the Cardinals came back from a 2-0 deficit to win a seven-game postseason series was in the NLCS in 1985 against the Dodgers, but those losses in the first two games came on the road. The Cardinals won the next four games to win the series in six games. This is the first time they have been down 0-2 in a seven-game series since the 2002 NLCS against the Giants. They lost that series in five games.
Worth noting: With Wainwright and Scherzer both recording 11 strikeouts, this was only the third game in MLB history in which both starting pitchers had 11 or more strikeouts. The last time it happened was in game 1 of the NLDS in 2015 between Jacob deGrom and Clayton Kershaw … This also was Wainwright’s first double-digit strikeout game at home since June 1, 2013 … Since the start of September, Fowler has 10 hits in 87 at-bats in 23 games, all while hitting leadoff. The last time he had a hit in the first inning of a home game was on Sept. 2 … Goldschmidt had just two hits in 27 career at-bats against Scherzer before his seventh-inning single. He had struck out 16 times in those at-bats, including his first two at-bats on Saturday. It’s the fewest hits in his career against any pitcher he has faced at least 25 times.
Looking ahead: The Cardinals will fly to Washington on Sunday with game three of the series set for Monday night, a matchup of pitchers Jack Flaherty and Stephen Strasburg.
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports