By James Kenney
Rising star Joe Ross and veteran pitcher Mike Leake, an offseason target of the Nationals, squared off last night in game two of the four game series between the Nats and the St. Louis Cardinals. The game was a classic National League contest where pitching dominated and runs were few, with the Cards and Nats only collecting 13 hits combined.
Until the top of the fourth inning, both pitchers had only given up two hits and one walk combined. On Ross’ 49th pitch of the evening, shortstop Aledmys Diaz took a hanging breaking ball and hit a deep homerun into the Cards’ bullpen in left field. After the homerun, Ross would not give up another hit for three innings.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, right fielder Bryce Harper, whose bat has been questionable as of late, tied the game with a moon shot off another hanging breaking ball that landed off the facade of the third deck. Harper snapped his hitless streak against the Cardinals this season with the towering drive.
One inning later, Ross gave up a pair of singles to outfielders Stephen Piscotty and Brandon Moss. Ross escaped the jam, and maintained the tie game, by getting infielder Kolten Wong to ground into an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play.
Leake, Diaz and All Star catcher Yadier Molina combined for a highlight reel play in the bottom half of the seventh inning when all three came together to field a pop up by shortstop Stephen Drew. Diaz collided softly with Leake in attempt to catch the fly, but the potentially precarious ball popped out of Diaz’s glove directly into the mitt of nearby Molina, who never dropped his catcher’s mask. One batter after the near mishap for the Cards, Leake hung yet another off-speed pitch and shortstop Danny Espinosa put the Nats ahead with a deep shot on to the second deck. Ross was pinch-hit for one batter later by utility fielder Clint Robinson.
Closer Jonathan Papelbon quickly retired the only three hitters he faced and sealed the Nats fourth straight victory over the Cardinals in the season series after forcing Moss to pop out to first baseman Ryan Zimmerman.
Ross earned the well deserved win and maintains an impressive 2.52 ERA and improves to 4-4 on the season. The Nats look to continue their roll over the Cardinals, a team which has given them problems in recent regular and postseasons, on Friday night. Veteran Jaime Garcia (3-4, 3.59 ERA) will face ace pitcher Max Scherzer (5-3, 3.80 ERA) square off at 7:05 p.m. at Nats Park.