WASHINGTON (AP) - After opening up a seemingly safe lead, the St. Louis Cardinals watched the margin evaporate in one wild inning Tuesday night.
The Washington Nationals scored six runs in the seventh, sparked by Ryan Zimmerman's RBI double, for an 8-6 comeback win.
The Cardinals' bullpen gave up Washington's last four runs in the inning with two outs. The tying run scored on a wild pitch and the Nationals took the lead on a bases-loaded walk.
``It was just a nightmare of a seventh inning,' Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said.
The meltdown erased a solid performance by starter Jaime Garcia, who allowed two runs and eight hits over six innings, striking out seven and walking one.
Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman homered for St. Louis, which has lost a season-high four straight.
Miguel Batista (3-2) relieved Garcia to start the seventh with St. Louis holding a 6-2 lead. Batista walked Jayson Werth and gave up a hit to Ian Desmond before the double by Zimmerman, who was making his return from the disabled list after missing 58 games with an injured abdominal muscle.
Batista got an RBI groundout from Michael Morse for the second out. Danny Espinosa then drove in Zimmerman on a single.
``He just had a bad day,' La Russa said. ``Batista had been knocking them dead. He'd been getting right-handers. They were all right-handers until (Espinosa) came up.'
Trever Miller came on and plunked Roger Bernadina, loading the bases, and then threw a wild pitch to pinch-hitter Ivan Rodriguez, allowing the tying run to score. After an intentional walk to Rodriguez, reliever Jason Motte came on and walked pinch-hitter Laynce Nix on the 11th pitch of the at-bat to give the Nationals their first lead of the game, 7-6.
``He fought off some good pitches,' Motte said. ``It was just one of those at_bats. He fouled off enough pitches and took the balls.'
Werth singled home an insurance run to cap the rally.
Pujols hit a two-run homer in the first - his 15th of the year - and Berkman hit his 17th in the fourth.
The Cardinals took advantage of a defensive miscue to score three runs in the fifth and take a 6-1 lead.
An intentional walk to Pujols with one out loaded the bases for Berkman, who hit what appeared to be a double-play grounder to Desmond at shortstop. However, his flip to Espinosa caught the second baseman in an awkward position, and the throw to first was too late to get Berkman. The reprieve led to two more St. Louis runs as Yadier Molina and Andrew Brown hit run-scoring singles before the Nationals got out of the inning.
St. Louis did get a runner in scoring position in the ninth with Pujols at the plate.
Washington closer Drew Storen walked Ryan Theriot with one out, and he went to second on defensive indifference before Pujols came up with two outs. The Nationals intentionally walked Pujols for the second time in the game to face Berkman, who hit a comebacker to Storen for the final out.
Washington manager Jim Riggleman said he had no intention of letting Pujols swing the bat in the crucial situation.
``I just wouldn't have slept good tonight if he had homered there,' Riggleman said.
NOTES: Nationals OF Rick Ankiel (strained left intercostal muscle) left the game after the top of the second and is day to day. ... Washington optioned RHP Craig Stammen to Triple-A Syracuse. ... LHP Tom Gorzelanny (inflamed left elbow) threw a rehab start for Syracuse on Monday, giving up four runs in four innings. Gorzelanny said Tuesday he felt ready to come off the DL for his next start, although Riggleman said he might get one more rehab start. ... Brown made his first major league start (in RF), one game after his MLB debut, and got his first hit in the fifth inning. ... Theriot had errors at SS on consecutive plays in the fifth inning. He has 13 this season.
The Associated Press News Service
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