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October 11, 2012

Playoff Prospectus

NLDS Game Four Recap: Nationals 2, Cardinals 1

by R.J. Anderson

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Game Four between the Cardinals and Nationals gave the people what they wanted: a lengthy, dramatic, Hollywood-inspired at-bat that ended a postseason game with an exclamation point. Earlier in the day, Jay Bruce delivered the first half late in the Giants-Reds series, but failed to punctuate. Walk-off home runs are exciting regardless of the at-bat length; however, there’s just something magical about seeing a pitcher and hitter going at it for 10, 11, 12 pitches before reaching a conclusion. Jayson Werth and Lance Lynn did one better: they dueled for 13 pitches.

It’s important to note Mike Matheny’s involvement in the standoff. Going into the ninth tied, Matheny could have sent in his closer, Jason Motte. He chose instead to call upon Lynn, his go-to guy this postseason. Lynn came in pumping gas. He hit 95 to start the at-bat and followed it up with 94—both for strikes; you could excuse Bryce Harper, the on-deck hitter, for removing the donut from his bat at this point.

But Werth fought back. He took the next two pitches for balls and then entered into what amounts to the baseball version of penalty kicks. Lynn would throw a pitch, Werth would make enough contact to stay alive. Werth spoiled six consecutive pitches before taking a curveball down and in, ruled a ball by Jim Joyce. Lynn threw a 97 mph fastball, again for naught, before overthrowing a 96 mph heater that wound up in Werth’s wheelhouse. Werth clobbered the ball into the left field stands and gave the Nationals new life in this series.

The swing enlivened what had been a fairly dull series. Game One had dramatics borne from sloppy pitching. Games Two and Three were robbed of their intrigue by the scoreboard. This series was close to being over, but closer to being boring; an unexpected proposition given the quality of the teams involved. There’s no telling how Game Five will turn out, but let’s hope the series mimics Werth’s at-bat: in trouble early on, aiming to keep alive in the middle, and brilliant at the end. If so, we’re in for a good one.

  • Kyle Lohse made his second postseason start and pitched well. This could go down as Lohse’s final start for the Cardinals, given his pending free agency and the Cardinals' potential elimination.
  • Lohse’s counterpart, Ross Detwiler, gave the Nationals a chance to win by keeping the Cardinals off the bases and the scoreboard. One run allowed over six innings amounts to yeoman’s work given the recent production from Washington’s rotation.
  • Speaking of which, Jordan Zimmermann atoned for his Game Two awfulness by working an inning of relief and striking out the side.
  • Credit Davey Johnson for not taking any chances in the late stages. He went from Detwiler to Zimmermann to Tyler Clippard to Drew Storen; those three relievers combined for eight consecutive outs via strikeout at one point.
  • Game Five will take place Friday night. Gio Gonzalez and Adam Wainwright will give us Battle of the World-Class Curveballs II. Hopefully, both of them have better fastball control this turn. If not, expect aggressive hooks. 

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

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