WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 14: Stephen Strasburg #37 of the Washington Nationals runs off the mound after retiring his side in the third inning during game three of the National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park on October 14, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images
Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images

McCoy: Strasburg, clutch hitting push Nationals to within one win of World Series

Figuring out baseball is like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube while wearing a blindfold. It can’t be done.

The St. Louis Cardinals scored 10 runs in the first inning against the Atlanta Braves in the deciding game of the National League Division Series.

That moved the Cardinals into the National League Championship Series against the Washington Nationals.

And suddenly the Cardinals can’t buy a run with a platinum credit card. Or cash.

Their frustrations continued Monday night in Nationals Park during a 8-1 defeat that put them down 3-0, one defeat away from packing their gear for the rest of the season.

The Cardinals have scored two runs in their three NLCS defeats.

In the opener, Washington’s No. 4 starter, Anibal Sanchez, held the Cardinals hitless for 7 2/3 innings before Jose Martinez singled. That was the only hit for the Cardinals in a 2-0 loss.

In Game 2, Max Scherzer held the Cardinals hitless for six innings before Paul Goldschmidt led the seventh with a single. The Cardinals lost, 3-1.

In Game 3, Marcell Ozuna led the second inning with a double, a quick hit for the Cardinals against Stephen Strasburg.

It was small consolation.

The Nationals ripped in to St. Louis ace Jack Flaherty for four two-out runs in the third inning. It began with a leadoff single by Victor Robles and a sacrifice bunt by Strasburg.

Flaherty struck out Trea Turner for the second out. Disaster averted? Nope. Call 9-1-1.

Springfield’s Adam Eaton, Washington’s big gun during the postseason, continued his assault. He is an affirmed first-pitch hitter. He hit .479 this season on first-pitch swings.

The Cardinals surely knew that, but Flaherty threw him a first-pitch strike and Eaton drove it into center field for a run-scoring single.

Anthony Rendon lined one to left and Osuna tried to make a sliding catch. The ball was in his glove, then out of it, trickling away as Eaton scored from first to make it 2-0. What should have been ruled an error was ruled a double.

Juan Soto walked and Flaherty threw a wild pitch, putting runners on third and second. Howie Kendrick doubled up the right field gap and just like that it was 4-0.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals kept putting runners on base ... .and leaving them there against Strasburg. Nearly every time the Cardinals threatened, Strasburg produced a strikeout.

Osuna led the second with a double, but was caught off second on a ground ball to Strasburg and the Nationals pitcher tagged him out in a rundown.

They put together back-to-back two-out singles in the fourth. But Yadier Molina, looking for his first NLCS hit, flied to left.

Paul DeJong singled with one out in the fifth and didn’t budge. Pinch-hitter Matt Carpenter struck out and Dexter Fowler flied to left.

In Fowler’s first two at bats, Strasburg struck him out on three pitches each time.

Tyler Webb replaced Flaherty in the bottom of the fifth and the Nationals struck for two more two-out runs.

With one out, Anthony Rendon singled. Juan Soto flied to left for the second out. John Brebbia replaced Webb and it misfired.

Howie Kendrick doubled for a run and Ryan Zimmerman doubled for another run to make it 6-0.

The Nats made it 7-0 in the sixth when Victor Robles crushed an opposite-field home run to right.

St. Louis finally made some productive noise in the seventh against Strasburg. He gave up two singles to open the inning.

After Tommy Edman struck out, Paul DeJong singled to left and Juan Soto fell chasing it. He made a wild throw homeward for an error as Jose Martinez scored.

The Cardinals still had two on with one out, but, of course, Strasburg struck out pinch-hitter Matt Wieters and struck out Dexter Fowler for the third time.

Washington retrieved that run in the bottom of the seventh with two more two-out hits. Howie Kendrick doubled, his third double of the night, and Ryan Zimmerman scored him with a single.

Seven of Washington's eight runs came on two-out hits and the Nationals have scored 19 runs in this postseason with two-out hits.

The eight runs were six more than Strasburg needed while holding the Cardinals to one run, seven hits, no walks and 12 strikeouts for his seven innings. Most of his whiffs came on breaking pitches and change-ups.

Former Reds pitcher Tanner Rainey, traded last winter to Washington for pitcher Tanner Roark, finished the night in the ninth inning with a 1-2-3 inning, with two strikeouts.

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