Nationals beat Cardinals; magic number now 1

September 30, 2012, 3:37 AM

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

ST. LOUIS — The Washington Nationals opened with a blast good enough for two trips around the bases. Another big shot, and they can taste the NL East title.

Michael Morse circled the bases for a grand slam after taking an imaginary swing and Kurt Suzuki snapped a 10th-inning tie with a two-run double in a 6-4 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday night that shaved the Nationals’ magic number to one for taking the division.

"We showed a lot and we showed what good teams do, and that’s bounce back and battle through adversity," said closer Drew Storen, who blew his first save in four chances in the ninth. "So it’s ours for the taking tomorrow.

"We’re going to be ready, lace it up and let’s get it done."

The Nationals have put on hold a champagne celebration until they win the division, and were forced to wait at least another day when second-place Atlanta beat the Mets 2-0.

Washington had already assured the nation’s capital of its first post-season appearance since 1933. The Nationals can win their first division title on Sunday when a St. Louis native, lefty Ross Detwiler, starts against Cardinals 17-game winner Lance Lynn.

"These games are tough," Suzuki said. "These games definitely get you ready. Those guys are scrappy, they’re a good team."

St. Louis’ magic number for clinching the second NL wild-card spot remained at three, with a two-game lead over the Dodgers and four games to go. Starter Kyle Lohse took a large share of the blame after surrendering the Morse grand slam.

"The main thing I can do is locate and I didn’t do a good job of locating that inning," Lohse said. "I put us in a pretty good hole and the guys did a good job of battling back to give us a shot to win it."

The Nationals opened the game with a drive, and a bit of comedy.

Bryce Harper singled, Ryan Zimmerman doubled and Adam LaRoche drew a full-count walk to load the bases in the first inning. Lohse said what followed would have doubled him over if he’d been watching.

Morse hit a line drive on the first pitch that cleared the right-field wall into a grassy section, then bounced off a video board and back onto the field. First base umpire Chris Guccione didn’t see it, however, and play continued. Right fielder Carlos Beltran made a relay to second baseman Skip Schumaker, who ran down Morse as he retreated toward first.

The umpires looked at video replays and confirmed it was indeed a home run. Then they ordered all runners to retrace their steps and put Morse back at the plate, where he mimicked his swing minus a bat and then made his trot.

Morse got guidance from the dugout. From Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, too.

"I look back over the dugout at everybody telling me to swing and I’m like, ‘No I’m not going to swing.’ And Yaddy was like ‘Swing," you know, so I’m like, all right.

"So I swung. It felt like spring training or something. It felt like a drill."

Morse has four career slams and two this season. He is 6 for 11 with 14 RBIs with the bases loaded this year.

"That was weird," Lohse said. "I would probably have started laughing if I saw it, what Morse did afterwards. I wasn’t watching. I knew it was a homer, so I was just trying to re-start."

Rookie Pete Kozma had three hits and two RBIs for St. Louis. He scored on Jon Jay’s sacrifice fly off Storen (3-1) in the ninth to tie it.

"I’m having a blast," Kozma said. "That was a tough one to swallow, but still we’re having fun."

The Nationals got a pair of walks and a passed ball to set up the go-ahead hit, a double off the wall in left-centre by Suzuki, who’s batting .385 with runners in scoring position since coming in a trade from Oakland on Aug. 3.

LaRoche walked for second time to open the 10th against rookie Sam Freeman (0-2) and also had a pair of hits.

Craig Stammen allowed a hit but also got a double-play ball in the 10th for his first save in two chances.

Just like a night earlier when the Nationals’ Edwin Jackson trailed 5-1 after an inning, Lohse got into deep trouble early.

Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann entered 0-2 with a 10.71 ERA in four starts against the Cardinals, allowing at least five runs each time. He retired eight of nine to open the game and before the seventh had allowed only one runner into scoring position.

The Cardinals got three straight one-out hits to chase Zimmermann in the seventh, singles by Beltran and Schumaker ahead of a two-run double by Kozma, the eighth-place hitter. Jay added an RBI single off Sean Burnett to cut the deficit to one.

NOTES: Cardinals 3B David Freese missed his fifth straight start with a sprained right ankle but could play Sunday. Matt Carpenter subbed for him again Saturday. Freese drew a five-pitch walk as a pinch hitter in the seventh. … Beltran, who entered in a 3-for-21 slump, batted sixth for the second straight night and fourth time overall this season. He’s been the primary cleanup man and has 92 RBIs, but just 27 since the All-Star break.

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