“This game,” Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo said, “you’ve got to get all 27 outs.”
Got an hour and 52 minutes, a stiff drink, a couple superstitions and some fingers through which to peer? Because here we go:
Gonzalez, the Cy Young candidate who was handed a 6-0 lead, was done after 99 pitches. First up: Craig Stammen. His body of work this postseason: three appearances, 21
3 innings pitched, three runs allowed. Not a guy who, at this point in the season, instilled confidence.
But after a leadoff single, Stammen chipped away at that long list of outs to get. At 10:41 p.m., he retired Daniel Descalso on a liner to center. No big deal? Maybe. But they were down to 11 outs to go.
Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma, a minor league fill-in who destroyed the Nationals this series, came up next, and his bouncing ball toward second base should have ended the inning. Yet here’s where the tension — for everyone in the dugout and the stands, on couches and in bars — surfaces. Danny Espinosa couldn’t dig the ball out of his glove quickly. The opportunity for a double play came and went. At 10:44 p.m., they had a fielder’s choice for the second out of the inning, but that was it. There were 10 outs to go.
With the Cardinals sending up Skip Schumaker, a left-handed batter, as a pinch hitter, Nationals Manager Davey Johnson turned to lefty Sean Burnett, a man with a frayed left elbow. On guts alone, Burnett — whose fastball hovered at 87 mph — got Schumaker to roll over a pitch and ground to first, the final out of the inning. At 10:47 p.m., they had nine outs to go.
Johnson, then, got creative, perhaps overly so. Before the game, he said Edwin Jackson, who had started and lost Game 3, would be available out of the bullpen “if we went past nine innings.” But here came Jackson in the seventh. And when he started by walking Jon Jay and allowing a rocket of a double to right by Carlos Beltran, the crowd grew still more unsettled, the entire lower bowl standings. At 11:09 p.m., Jackson got a grounder out of Matt Holliday, the Cardinals’ third-place hitter. It turned into both an out and a run, and St. Louis was within 6-4.
Still, they were down to eight outs to go.