Cards close April with win, best record
Redbirds down Nationals with late rally, improve to 16-7
WASHINGTON -- No matter how you look at it, the Cardinals turn the calendar from April to May with the best record in baseball at 16-7.
But their 9-4 win over the Washington Nationals on Thursday night was probably not the victory they're going to want to put in a frame and look back on as the model of their success.
The Cards rallied for five runs in the top of the ninth to snap a 4-4 tie, benefiting as much from an implosion by the back of the Nationals' bullpen as anything.
In the ninth, the Cards scored on a combination of three hits, two walks, a hit batsman and a balk.
That doesn't lessen the more attractive contributions made across the board throughout the rest of the game, however.
It was certainly a night to remember for rookie shortstop Tyler Greene, who, called up from Triple-A Memphis just hours earlier to make his big league debut, squibbed a bases-loaded infield single over the glove of charging shortstop Cristian Guzman in that fateful ninth to drive in one of the runs.
"With the bases loaded, I was just trying to get something over the plate, and I was out in front and cued it over to third and just put it in the right spot," Greene said. "It's been a dream come true. It was awesome getting that call, surreal at first, and after tonight it's all becoming reality. "
Greene's weren't the only rookie heroics on the night. Right-hander Mitchell Boggs, in his second start of the season, struck out a career-high nine batters over six innings. Though he didn't factor in the decision, his performance did not go unnoticed by his manager.
"Boggs was outstanding," said Tony La Russa. "He's got legitimate stuff. He has a lot of movement, he's improving his offspeed pitches and he's very competitive."
Boggs topped his previous Major League personal best of six strikeouts, set on June 28, 2008, against Kansas City.
Once Boggs' night was done after six innings, the Cards got yeoman's work from four relievers, notably new arrival Blaine Boyer, who quickly retired the top of the order in the seventh.
"Boyer was a standout," La Russa said. "He made so many good pitches for his three outs."
Among the parade of 11 pitchers between the two teams, Cards right-hander Chris Perez (1-1) earned the win, while Nationals closer du jour Julian Tavarez (0-2) took the loss, allowing five runs -- only two of them earned -- in one-third of an inning.
For the first eight innings, it might have been tough to tell just which team had the Majors' best record and which had the worst. It looked early on as if it would be an old-fashioned slugfest, as the two teams traded two-run homers in their respective halves of the first inning.
Cards slugger Albert Pujols struck first with his eighth dinger of the season, scoring Colby Rasmus to stake his team to a quick two-run lead.
But the Nationals answered back in the bottom of the inning as Ryan Zimmerman extended his hitting streak to 19 games in the bottom of the inning with a two-run blast of his own to tie the score.
The score remained knotted at 2 until the fifth, when the Cards' Skip Schumaker -- after extending his own hitting streak to 11 games -- scored on a sac fly by Rasmus.
But Washington (6-15) answered back with two outs in the sixth with some action from the bottom of the order, an RBI triple by Jesus Flores and an RBI double by Anderson Hernandez to take a 4-3 lead. Ankiel's sacrifice fly in the seventh tied it at 4, where it remained until the ninth.
With the Nationals crowd anticipating an upset win by their team -- or at least extra innings -- the veteran Tavarez took the mound to start the ninth and quickly got Pujols to ground out.
Chris Duncan, however, followed by drawing a walk, and Ankiel struck again, this time finding the left-field corner to score Duncan with the go-ahead run.
After walking Joe Thurston and hitting Jason LaRue with a pitch, Tavarez found himself with the bases loaded and Greene, who had gone 0-for-4 on the night, at the plate.
Greene's swinging bunt got past Zimmerman, allowing Ankiel to score, and Thurston followed close behind him as Flores could not hold onto the relay from Guzman.
Erstwhile Nats closer Joel Hanrahan took over for Tavarez at that point and promptly balked home LaRue, and the final run of the night scored on a sacrifice fly by Brian Barden.
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.