(Reuters) - Carlos Beltran hit two home runs as the defending World Series champion Cardinals overpowered the Washington Nationals 12-4 in St. Louis on Monday to tie their best-of-five National League Division Series at 1-1.
Beaten 3-2 by the top-seeded Nationals in Sunday’s opener, the Cardinals took control with a four-run explosion in the second inning when David Freese hit the first double of the series before Beltran homered in the sixth and eighth.
”I wasn’t really trying to hit homers right there,“ a smiling Beltran told reporters. ”I was trying to hit the ball hard somewhere. I got good pitches to hit.
“Against (Mike) Gonzalez, I got a changeup on the inside part of the plate and I was able to stay inside the ball. And the second one was a fastball against a very tough lefty (Sean Burnett) for them. I was able to hit it good.”
Washington starter Jordan Zimmermann, who came into Game Two with a woeful 9.12 earned run average in five previous matchups with the Cardinals, gave up five runs and seven hits over three innings before exiting.
Though Jaime Garcia allowed just one run and two hits in two innings pitched for St. Louis before making way for 18-game winner Lance Lynn, the Cardinals offense made the biggest difference in front of 45,840 raucous fans at Busch Stadium.
After Zimmermann had singled on a line drive to right fielder Beltran for Ian Desmond to score in the top of the second inning, St. Louis exploded in reply.
Allen Craig and Yadier Molina scored singles, Freese drove home the tying run with a double and Daniel Descalso followed with a run-scoring single.
The Cardinals padded their lead to 7-1 before Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche trimmed the deficit by hitting back-to-back homers in the fifth inning.
St. Louis reliever Joe Kelly covered the sixth inning, with considerable help from Jon Jay who pulled off a brilliant leaping catch as he slammed upwards into the center wall to save a leadoff extra-base hit by Danny Espinosa.
“It was a little bit easier to see when the shadows were gone,” said Jay, who also had three runs batted in at the plate. “The ball went up and I got a good beat on it. I just said, ‘Make the catch. Make the catch.’ And I came up with it.”
However, the Nationals still faced an uphill climb. Beltran piled on further misery for them when he powered a solo homer into the third deck above left field in the sixth, then belted a two-run homer on a fly ball to left-center field in the eighth.
”That’s some of the youth in the pitching staff,“ Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. ”(Zimmermann) didn’t really make a lot of adjustments out there.
“He kind of stayed one way - hard away. (Against) a good fastball-hitting club, you have to use both sides of the plate, and he didn’t really use his slider much early on.”
The best-of-five series shifts to Washington for Game Three on Wednesday, Game Four on Thursday and, if needed, Game Five on Friday.
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Ian Ransom