The consternation about the Nationals opening on the road dissipated with their thrilling, 3-2 victory in Game 1 of the NLDS. They no longer have to worry about the nightmare scenario – a 98-win team, in the playoffs for the first time, returning home 0-2 and watching their season slip away in one game. If anything, they applied all the pressure on the Cardinals.
“Going back to yesterday, that game is huge,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said. “Game 1 in a short series like this is huge. I think more anything for the Cardinals now, this is kind of a must-win. You don’t want to get down two games in any series, but definitely not in a five-game.”
The Nationals victory yesterday, with three games left at home, swung the 2-3 format wildly in their favor. If opening on the looked like a disadvantage coming into the series, one victory now makes it an extreme advantage.
It also served another purpose. The Cardinals held a clear edge in postseason experience, a significant storyline coming. “It can play to a little bit of an advantage,” LaRoche said. “Those guys are comfortable being in that situation.” The Nationals, first of all, proved it didn’t matter much. Second of all, they gained just about every kind of experience you could in that wild game.
“To win here in St. Louis is pretty big,” reliever Craig Stammen said yesterday. “It lets us relax a little bit tomorrow and play our game.”
The game, again, will be influenced by the setting sun and shadows. The shadows will likely have crept between home plate and the mound by the time first pitch happens, with them advancing to the outfield by the late innings. Catcher Kurt Suzuki said the shadows have an effect until they get all way out of the infield – when they extend behind the mound but not beyond second base, it’s still impossible to pick up spin on the ball and judge pitches.
Expect a low-scoring game early, which plays into the Nationals’ hands. The Nationals’ right-handed relievers can neutralize the Cardinals’ right-handed heavy lineup, and the Cardinals having only one lefty in their bullpen means Manager Davey Johnson can dictate lineups.
The sun could have an especially devastating effect for Jordan Zimmermann. His slider is difficult to differentiate from his fastball, anyway, and the shadows will make it impossible. Last year in Anaheim, the Nationals played a game with shadows criss-crossing the infield, and Zimmermann allowed no earned runs in an eight-inning complete game.
The Nationals can take full command of the series today, or they can bring a knotted series back to Washington. No matter what happens, Game 1 put them in full command.