Morse’s dream-come-true and Suzuki’s latest clutch hit paced the Nationals’ 6-4 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals that, in tandem with the Atlanta Braves’ win over the New York Mets, reduced the magic number for the first division title since baseball returned to the District to one. Win Sunday, Game 159, and they clinch the National League East.
“We’re ready to pop some champagne,” reliever Tyler Clippard said. “We’re itching.”
The Nationals lost control Saturday night after the Cardinals rallied for three runs in the seventh inning. They lost the lead when Drew Storen blew a save opportunity for the first time this season. Together, it turned a comfortable victory into a watch-through-your-fingers finish against an opponent pushing for the postseason — the perfect preview for October.
“To be playing do-or-die baseball for the past week or so is obviously going to get us ready,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “To have those kind of games is kind of preparing us. Not a lot of us really know what to expect. Nothing’s going to come easy, and I wouldn’t expect it to come easy.”
It sure didn’t Saturday night. The Cardinals erased what remained of the Nationals’ four-run lead in the ninth off Storen. With one out, Pete Kozma rifled a single through the left side and into left field. Pinch-hitter Daniel Descalso rolled another single into right, which put runners on the corners. Jon Jay crunched a first-pitch, 95-mph sinker deep to center field. Bryce Harper could only throw the ball back to second base as Kozma scored the tying run.
“If I’m going to pitch where I want to pitch in the playoffs, that’s what you learn from tonight,” Storen said. “You got to take the emotions out if. We got a win, and I’m happy as hell about that.”
Storen struck out Matt Carpenter to at least push the game into extra innings. Given the state of the Nationals’ offense, the prospect offered little hope. They had scored two runs here Friday night, and Saturday they tossed up eight zeroes following Morse’s first-inning grand slam.
Adam LaRoche drew a leadoff walk off left-hander Sam Freeman to start the 10th. Roger Bernadina bunted him to second base, nearly sneaking the ball past Freeman’s athletic dive. With two outs and LaRoche still on second, Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny had Fernando Salas intentionally walk Danny Espinosa to pitch to Suzuki.