ST. LOUIS -- An ugly third inning sank Jake Westbrook and the Cardinals in the opener of a day-night doubleheader at Busch Stadium on Wednesday afternoon.
Five hits and two walks added up to six runs against Westbrook in the third, and the Nationals held on for an 8-6 victory. St. Louis rallied and brought the go-ahead run to the plate in the seventh inning, but the Cards couldn't complete the comeback.
Westbrook wasn't at his best from the start, though he also didn't get a great deal of help from his defense. A missed double-play chance led to a run in the first, and Westbrook pitched around an error in the second. He made it through two innings with only one run on the board, though, and it appeared he might be finding his groove.
It came unraveled for him in the third. Following a leadoff groundout by opposing pitcher John Lannan, Danny Espinosa beat out an infield hit, Rick Ankiel drew a walk and Jayson Werth singled in the inning's first run. Another walk was followed by three consecutive run-scoring base hits and a successful double-steal before Westbrook escaped the jam with another pair of groundouts.
The outing left Westbrook with a 9.82 ERA. He has 14 walks against 10 strikeouts on the year and has allowed 30 hits in 18 1/3 innings.
"It's been frustrating," he said. "It's kind of something that I need to figure out and do a better job on. That's something that I'll work on. I'm not going to give up on anything. I'm going to keep going out there and working hard and trying to figure it out."
The Cards threatened against Lannan and a string of relievers, and by the sixth, they made it a game. But the hole was too deep, and St. Louis was never able to tie the game.
Colby Rasmus' two-run single capped a three-run sixth that reduced the deficit to two runs. That brought Albert Pujols to the plate with two on, but he flied out to left. Both Pujols and Rasmus lifted solo home runs for the Cards' first two runs.
The Cardinals squandered a key opportunity an inning later. Matt Holliday led off with a single and Lance Berkman walked, but David Freese's popup and strikeouts by pinch-hitters Jon Jay and Daniel Descalso left them stranded at first and second. St. Louis added another run in the eighth, but it was only after Ryan Franklin permitted a home run to lengthen the Washington lead.
"Their offense is coming at you inning after inning," said Nationals manager Jim Riggleman. "There was never any letup. It was a well-played game. You just can't let them back in the game. It was a tough win."
Cardinals batters went 3-for-13 with runners in scoring position and hit into four double plays on the afternoon.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.