ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals' new-look, kiddie-corps bullpen got off to a fine start on Wednesday.
Three pitchers, totaling barely four years of Major League service time between them, combined to throw four shutout innings as the Cardinals beat the Nationals, 5-3, at Busch Stadium. The win secured a split of a day-night doubleheader for the Redbirds, who dropped the opener by an 8-6 count. St. Louis pulled into a four-way tie for first place in the National League Central.
Starter Jaime Garcia tossed five effective but high-workload innings, and departed after walking the leadoff man in the sixth inning with 101 pitches under his belt. For a reconfigured relief corps, that might have represented a chore. Instead, it turned out to be an opportunity.
Mitchell Boggs closed the door in the ninth, collecting his first big league save, but it was assuredly a team effort.
Jason Motte, the graybeard of the bunch with a little over two years' service time, came in for Garcia with a two-run lead and Garcia's runner on first. After pitching in the first game as well, Motte induced two ground balls and a called strike three to escape the inning, then was removed for a pinch-hitter.
Eduardo Sanchez, promoted from the Minor Leagues just last week, turned in two outstanding innings, not allowing a baserunner. Sanchez fanned two batters, including lefty power hitter Adam LaRoche to end the eighth, as he extended his career-opening shutout streak to five innings.
"I thought everybody [was impressive]," manager Tony La Russa said. "Motte comes in, pitched this afternoon, threw the ball well with good command. Sanchez pitches like he's been pitching, good stuff. I was really impressed with Boggs in the ninth. Good composure. ... They were all very impressive."
Boggs, a power-armed right-hander, has rapidly ascended the Cardinals' relief depth chart over the past season-plus. He made relatively short stints with the big league club in 2008 and 2009 as a starter, but found his niche late in '09 when he was moved to the bullpen.
He began learning to harness his high-wattage sinker in a relief role, and by the end of '10, Boggs had established himself as a leading contender to take over when the time came that Ryan Franklin was no longer closing games for the Cardinals. That time, at least temporarily, arrived this week, and Boggs was ready.
He struck out the first batter he faced, got a grounder for the second out and allowed a single to Ian Desmond before Laynce Nix popped up to end the game. It was Boggs' first save since he was pitching for the University of Georgia.
"It was just going out there and getting three outs," he said. "I felt good. Once I started warming up, I didn't feel any different. But when you get out there and you get two outs and the crowd gets into it a little bit and the adrenaline gets going a little bit more, you want to get that last out. We were able to get it."
It was the first time the Cardinals had a lead to protect in the late innings since Franklin was removed as the club's closer. Franklin was charged with four blown saves out of his first five chances, and he allowed a home run in two innings in the Cards' loss in the opener of the doubleheader.
In the late game, though, the relief corps starred.
"The ball doesn't know how old you are or how much experience you've got," said Lance Berkman, the hitting hero of the day. "[Boggs and Sanchez] are throwing 95 mph coming out of the bullpen with nasty breaking stuff. So they're going to give some people some trouble."
Berkman provided the bulk of the offense once again for St. Louis, collecting two singles, a double and two RBIs. His fifth-inning RBI single broke the game's last tie, giving the Cards a 4-3 lead. Yadier Molina, Nick Punto and Colby Rasmus all added RBIs, as well.
The Cards' winning rally all happened with two outs in the fifth. An Albert Pujols walk was followed by three straight singles that delivered the win for the Redbirds.
"I should have beared down a little more [against Pujols] and went after Holliday," Nats starter Jordan Zimmermann said. "A couple of hits after that, it kind of had a snowball effect. I just missed on a couple of pitches."
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.