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Cards fight back to beat Nats, end streak

By Joe Strauss, St. Louis Post-Dispatch –

WASHINGTON — For four days and four losses the St. Louis Cardinals’ offense consisted of torpor, frustration, a grand total of three extra-base hits and one unearned run.

When the defending World Series champions insisted they were far from dead, they meant that looks could be deceiving.

Given multiple chances Saturday afternoon to again fold up neatly and go away, the Cardinals chose to make a stand before 34,004 at Nationals Park.

Twice they trailed by four runs behind an irritated starting pitcher.

They eventually grabbed a two-run lead only to lose it in a chaotic sixth inning against Kyle Lohse and two relievers.

Ultimately, a team starved for production found its power stroke, manufactured an eighth-inning tie, then concocted a ninth-inning win that hinged on third baseman David Freese’s third hit and closer Jason Motte’s pristine save.

The Cardinals didn’t claim to make a statement with their 10-9 win over the 80-win Washington Nationals. However, they were downright prideful about the many components required for it to happen.

“It was just well-fought,” said Cards manager Mike Matheny.

“Any win from here on out is big,” noted center fielder Jon Jay, who constructed a complete game that began with three hits and two runs. “Every game is the biggest game of the year now. We have that approach. I like where we’re at.”

Freese left behind an irritating August by providing a second-inning home run and a fourth-inning double off shell-shocked Nats starter Jordan Zimmerman plus a broken-bat, one-out single that scored Allen Craig with the winning run.

“I had a terrible August but we pick each other up. It felt good to help out,” said Freese, who returned his average to .300 after hitting .213 in August with more strikeouts than hits.

Craig reached scoring position by taking advantage of reliever Drew Storen’s lethargic time to the plate (1.9-2.0 seconds) for a stolen base so unchallenged the official scorer initially ruled it defensive indifference. The ruling was later corrected to a stolen base.

“He just saw an opportunity,” Matheny said.

Trailing 6-4, first baseman Matt Carpenter gave the Cardinals their first lead in the fourth inning with a two-out, three-run double that missed clearing the right-field wall by inches. Carpenter hobbled from the clubhouse Friday night with a sprained ankle. He awoke Saturday able to put weight on the foot and convinced the team’s training staff of his fitness during a morning workout. Matheny called it “a push” to get him in the lineup.

“You can’t help but notice when he’s in the lineup it changes a little bit, and we needed a little change,” Matheny said.

Craig immediately followed with his first hit of the game and 72nd RBI in 91 games. He later thought about what he termed a “grinder of a game” and whether the day erased any doubts.

“I don’t think ‘doubt’ is the right word,” Craig said. “I think it’s frustrating when you’re not doing what you feel you should be doing. But we’re all professionals. We’ve all been through it. We’ve all struggled at some point in our career. We know how to get back on track.”

After managing only 19 hits in their four-game losing streak, the Cardinals received contributions subtle and obvious from every corner of the clubhouse. Relievers Edward Mujica, Mitchell Boggs (3-1) and Motte worked a perfect inning apiece after the Nats had produced 10 hits and a 9-8 lead through six innings.

“We’ve got a month left in the season. We can certainly be a strength for this team and help us get where we need to go,” Boggs said.

Motte disposed of center fielder Bryce Harper, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and first baseman Adam LaRoche for his 32nd save, which on this day became a team statistic. “To get there requires all of us,” Motte said.

Freese, Craig and Jay managed three hits each. Jay threw in two highlight-worthy catches at the wall, one to end the seventh inning and the other to open the eighth. He reached base four times and scored twice after being caught stealing for the game’s first out.

Shane Robinson worked a pinch-hit walk in the eighth inning, reached scoring position by perfectly reading a pop-up bunt that fell, then scored the tying run on Carlos Beltran’s first-pitch, pinch single.

“You go through stretches where it’s hard to figure what we’re doing wrong,” Beltran said. “You would love to have a magic wand to fix everything. We’ve gone through a lot this year. Today was a great win.”

“Even though we had been shut down the last few days, this is what we’re capable of,” said Jay, one of six starters who left the game with a .300 average or better.

The Cardinals chased Zimmerman with eight earned runs in 32/3 innings. Zimmerman entered the game tied for the league’s third-lowest ERA, 2.63, and left with it at 3.01. Zimmerman still hasn’t beaten the Cardinals in his career and left Saturday 0-3 with a 7.92 ERA in his last four starts.

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