The Cardinals pop the cork on a 4-game home series with fellow wild card contenders, the Washington Nationals, tonight. Our surprise virtuoso/stalwart rotation head Miles Mikolas takes on Nats, uh… Guy, Tommy Milone. Milone, 31, has been uninspiring throughout an 8-year career in the majors, putting up -0.4 bWAR in 754 innings, working almost exclusively as a starter through that time. What I’m getting at is that we should have a pitching edge here. As play starts tonight, we’re 2.5 games back of a wild card berth with 44 games to go. The Royals sweep brought us to 5 straight wins, and I see no reason to slow down. Full steam ahead!

The Game

The Cardinals struck first, in the first. Carpenter, Molina, and Ozuna strung together a trio of singles to plate Carpenter. A Gyorko HBP jammed the bases up with 2 outs, but Harrison Bader stranded the group with a lazy flyout to right. Still, nice to get an early lead. 1-0 Cardinals.

The Nats wasted no time in responding. Anthony Rendon singled on a full count, then moved to 2nd on a sac bunt by Juan Soto (I thought the Nats fired Dusty Baker?). Ryan Zimmerman converted the run with a hard-hit double, tying the game. Mikolas buckled down and stopped the bleeding, and it was 1-1 Cardinals.

Mikolas doubled in the bottom of the frame and Carp walked, but Yadier grounded into an inning-ending double play, which would not be the last of its kind to appear tonight.

The 3rd went quickly, with the only hiccup being a pesky Jose Martinez single more or less up the middle.

Bryce Harper led off the top of the 4th, and he put up a heck of a fight. Mikolas got to 0-2 quickly on a pair of fouled-off breaking pitches, but then couldn’t get Harper to so much as nibble on the next 3 offerings. Then with a full count, Mikolas began deploying his deep repertoire exclusively up in the zone. After fouling off the first four pitches Mikolas challenged him with, Harper clobbered a no-doubter over the CF wall. I blinked and the inning was over, on account of Mikolas mowing down the next 3 guys with frightening efficiency, but the Nats had taken their first lead of the night, 2-1 bad guys.

But never fear, dear reader – there were several themes in play tonight, but one of them was that the Cardinals insisted on regaining the lead repeatedly. Harrison Bader hit what would’ve been a single to a slower man, and Kolten Wong hit a single that he stretched into an extra base on some relay shenanigans. Mikolas completed the Whiteyball-era nostalgia piece by helping himself out with a deep sac fly, knotting things back up in a 2-2 tie.

The Nats went in order in the top of the 5th, and Mikolas was still dealing. The bottom of the frame started in very promising fashion – Jose Martinez and Marcell Ozuna led off the inning with back-to-back singles, and Gyorko loaded the bases with 1 out with a single of his own. But (and I wish I were done saying this) the inning ended with a brutal double play, this one a 1-2-3 job off the bat of Harrison Bader. The Nats’ decision to pull mediocre lefty Milone and replace him with competent righty Wander Suero had something to do with this result, I’d bet.

The top of the 6th cruised by. Kolten walked to lead off the bottom of the frame, and Mikolas stepped in to hit for himself once more. I raised my eyebrows, checked his pitch count, saw an 85, and put my eyebrows back down. Mikolas popped out bunting, which was a bummer. Matt Carpenter, he of the baseball-enhancing salsa, stepped in, and promptly hammered a line drive right at third baseman Anthony Rendon, which turned into an inning-ending double play (And Carp’s first double play ball of the year, if you can believe it).

Trouble struck in the top of the 7th. Rendon walked and wunderkind Juan Soto knocked the first pitch he saw into the stands, doubling the Nats’ score and making it 4-2 Nats.

The Cardinals did not answer in the 7th. They did in the 8th, though. Jedd Gyorko sent a Justin Miller fourseamer into orbit to start the inning. Bader K’d, then Kolten Wong started things back up with a single to center. Lefty Greg Garcia was announced to pinch-hit for the pitcher’s spot against the right-handed Miller, then Dave Martinez pulled Miller for Lefty Sammy Solis. Shildt is not foreign to the arts of bench-fu though, and he replaced Garcia with righty Pat Wisdom. He was rewarded with a Wisdom single.

It was then that Matt Carpenter hit “just another dinger,” his NL-leading thirty-third of the year, to give the Cardinals 3 more runs. Cardinals driving again, 6-4.

Bud Norris entered to convert the save, and boy did he struggle. It went: Rendon single, Soto walk, Old Friend Matt Adams popout, Dan Murphy single (scoring Rendon), Matt Wieters single (scoring Juan Soto), Game tied 6-6. After Carpenter’s magical tater, the choking was a real bummer. Dakota Hudson entered the game and shut things down, preserving the tie going into the bottom of the 9th.

We didn’t have to wait long for the conclusion. Paul DeJong led off and, after running to a 3-1 count, demolished a 96 mph middle-middle sinker, walking off the Nats. CARDINALS WIN, 7-6!!!!!

YAY! Nats again tomorrow, Gio Gonzalez vs. John Gant. BE THERE.

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