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Cardinals can close out Nationals in NLDS Game 4

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Cardinals can close out Nationals in NLDS Game 4

WASHINGTON (AP) Jayson Werth's Washington Nationals were as good as it got during the regular season, compiling a majors-high 98 wins.

That doesn't count for much come the postseason, where the St. Louis Cardinals excel. So what if manager Tony La Russa retired after last year's World Series title? Who cares that slugger Albert Pujols left via free agency? Just like in 2011, the Cardinals are a wild-card club that finds a different player to lead the way each game, it seems.

Heading into Thursday's Game 4 of their best-of-five NL division series, the Cardinals built a 2-1 lead by outscoring the Nationals 22-7.

``It's going to be tough to score if you don't hit,'' Werth said after St. Louis starter Chris Carpenter and three relievers shut down Washington 8-0 in Game 3 on Wednesday. ``But I believe in this team. I believe in these guys. We've been here all year. Over a 162-game season, we were the best team in baseball. I still feel that way.''

The Cardinals like their chances, too.

``It's the biggest game of the year,'' center fielder Jon Jay said. ``We all know how important it is. You can't look ahead.''

Kyle Lohse, who beat the Atlanta Braves in last week's one-game, wild-card playoff, gets the start for St. Louis. Ross Detwiler pitches for Washington, which is sticking to its long-stated plan of keeping Stephen Strasburg on the sideline the rest of the way.

``We're not out of this, by a long shot,'' Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. ``Shoot, I've had my back to worse walls than this.''

Perhaps. Will be tough for Washington to win and extend the season if it can't get its offense going, though.

The Nationals didn't do much at all Wednesday against Carpenter, who finds that even something as simple as breathing can feel odd on occasion now that he's missing a rib and two neck muscles.

Taking the mound for only the fourth time in 2012 after complicated surgery to cure numbness on his right side, the 37-year-old Carpenter spoiled the return of postseason baseball to Washington by pitching into the sixth inning.

``To go from not being able to compete, and not only compete but help your team, to be able to be in this situation,'' Carpenter said, ``it's pretty cool.''

Carpenter allowed seven hits and walked two across his 5 2-3 innings to improve to 10-2 over his career in the postseason. The 10 victories tie the righty for seventh-most, behind Andy Pettitte's record 19.

``If the baseball world doesn't know what an amazing competitor he is by now,'' Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday said, ``they haven't been paying any attention.''

Rookie Pete Kozma delivered a three-run homer, and a trio of relievers finished the shutout for the Cardinals.

With the exception of Ian Desmond - 3 for 4 on Wednesday, 7 for 12 in the series - the Nationals' hitters are struggling mightily. They went 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position and left 11 men on base in Game 3.

Rookie phenom Bryce Harper's woes, in particular, stand out: He went 0 for 5, dropping to 1 for 15. He went to the plate with an ash bat and no gloves in the first inning, tried wearing anti-glare tinted contact lenses on a sun-splashed afternoon - nothing helped.

``Nothing I can do,'' the 19-year-old Harper said. ``I just missed a couple.''

All in all, quite a damper on the day for a Nationals Park-record 45,017 red-wearing, towel-twirling fans witnessing the first major league postseason game in the nation's capital in 79 years. They didn't have much to enjoy, in part because of the problems created by Nationals starter Edwin Jackson, who was on the Cardinals' championship team a year ago.

``I didn't feel like I was out of rhythm. I didn't feel like I couldn't throw strikes. I just missed across the plate with a couple of balls and it cost me,'' Jackson said.

He gave up four consecutive hits in the second, the biggest being Kozma's first-pitch homer into the first row in left off a 94 mph fastball to make it 4-0. Kozma took over as the Cardinals' everyday shortstop in September, replacing injured All-Star Rafael Furcal, and only had 72 at-bats during the regular season.

But he's only the latest in a series of ``Who's that?'' stars that seem to pop up for his club, such as David Freese last autumn.

The Cardinals won 10 fewer games than the Nationals this season and finished second in the NL Central, nine games behind Cincinnati, sneaking into the postseason as the league's second wild-card under this year's new format.

Doesn't matter.

The Cardinals learned to be resilient with their stretch run in 2011, also getting into the playoffs with the last NL berth.

``We saw how, if you just take it one game at a time, we're not looking at, `Hey, we have got to win two out of three here in Washington.' We're looking at it: We have to win today,'' Lohse said. ``We've done a good job of that - winning just about every game we absolutely had to. And I think when you start doing that, you realize you can do that. Your confidence goes up.''

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Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter athttp://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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Max Scherzer grits his way through broken nose in stellar outing, win vs. Phillies

Max Scherzer grits his way through broken nose in stellar outing, win vs. Phillies

WASHINGTON -- With a broken nose, pronounced black eye and seven shutout innings, Max Scherzer provided a striking capper to the Washington Nationals' day-night doubleheader sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies.

Scherzer himself? He shrugged off his work in the Nationals' 2-0 victory Wednesday night as business as usual.

"Trust me, this thing looks a lot worse than it actually is," Scherzer said. "I felt zero pain. There's been plenty of other injuries where I felt a lot of pain and I've had to pitch through. I'll hang my hat on those starts, but tonight I felt zero pain. This is part of what you have to do. You take the ball every fifth time.

"That's my responsibility to the team, to make sure I always post, and I knew I could post tonight."

Brian Dozier and Victor Robles hit solo homers to support Scherzer (6-5) as Washington won for the 16th time in 23 games. Philadelphia has dropped seven of its last nine and 12 of 18.

In the first game, Patrick Corbin struck out eight while allowing one run over seven innings as the Nationals earned a 6-2 victory in the delayed series opener after the teams were rained out Monday and Tuesday.

Scherzer bunted a ball off his face during batting practice Tuesday, but it didn't stop him from making his scheduled start. His injury may have provided an extra layer of intimidation in the form of a black eye more worthy of a boxing ring than a baseball diamond.

The three-time Cy Young Award winner sported a pronounced bruise arcing beneath his right eye, adding another hue to a glare that already featured one blue eye and one brown eye.

"Going out there and throwing, the only thing I had to deal with was the swelling underneath the eye," Scherzer said. "It was kind of jiggling around, and so in warmups I just had to get used to knowing what it was feeling like to throw the ball and just have that swelling."

While he wasn't at his most efficient on a humid night, piling up 117 pitches, Scherzer was rarely threatened. He struck out 10, yielded only four hits and permitted just two runners to reach scoring position. And he finished strong, striking out three in a row after Cesar Hernandez led off the seventh with a double.

"It really is one of the most impressive things I've seen in a while," Dozier said. "He's probably the best pitcher in our generation, and you don't get that status unless you take the ball every fifth day, no matter if you're doing good, doing bad, you got a broken nose. You always want the ball."

Bryce Harper, Scherzer's former Nationals teammate, was 0 for 4 with four walks in the doubleheader and was loudly booed before each plate appearance -- especially in the better-attended nightcap. This series is his second trip back to Washington, where he played from 2012-18, since signing a 13-year, $330 million contract with Philadelphia in March.

Dozier belted a two-out solo shot in the second off Jake Arrieta (6-6), who allowed two hits and struck out three over six innings and had the misfortune of matching up with Scherzer on the wrong day.

"Max is just one of the best to ever toe the rubber, honestly," Arietta said. "We have ran into him a couple of times. That's just what he does. He is tough to square up, and he is throwing three or four pitches for strikes with electric stuff. Just a tough one."

Robles homered off reliever Pat Neshek in the eighth. Neshek departed two batters later with a left hamstring strain, and manager Gabe Kapler said he was likely to land on the injured list less than a week after returning from an absence of more than three weeks caused by a shoulder strain.

Wander Suero pitched a perfect eighth for Washington, and Sean Doolittle worked the ninth for his 15th save in 18 tries.

Philadelphia was 0 for 12 with runners in scoring position between the two games.

Corbin (6-5), whose start was pushed back twice this week, allowed a solo homer to Scott Kingery in the first inning of the opener. But he let just one other runner to reach third while ending a personal three-game skid.

"It's not ideal, but you have to deal with it to make sure you are ready," said Corbin, who is one strikeout shy of 1,000 for his career. "I was glad we got that one in today."

Dozier and Gerardo Parra had RBI doubles against Phillies starter Zach Eflin (6-7). They later hit back-to-back homers in the eighth inning off Cole Irvin to seal the victory.

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This Nationals fan's Max Scherzer broken nose shirt is the best thing you'll see today

This Nationals fan's Max Scherzer broken nose shirt is the best thing you'll see today

Nationals ace Max Scherzer added another incredible chapter to his legendary career Wednesday, pitching seven shutout innings against the Phillies after breaking his nose in a batting practice accident the day before. 

To honor Scherzer's toughness, one amazing Nats fan wore arguably the greatest shirt ever seen at a baseball game.

(Photo: NBC Sports Washington)

This isn't a good shirt. This is a GREAT shirt, worthy of the man who's face it features. 

Someone get this fan a signed Scherzer baseball. 

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