ST. LOUIS – Jordan Zimmermann always has trouble with the St. Louis Cardinals. Game 2 of the NL division series was no exception.
The Washington Nationals' right-hander retired the side in order in the first inning, then struggled to get anybody else out in a 12-4 loss Monday that evened the best-of-five series at a game apiece.
Carlos Beltran hit the last two of the Cardinals' four homers and St. Louis chased an ineffective Zimmermann after three innings. Allen Craig and Daniel Descalso also went deep to help the defending World Series champions build a big lead that compensated for a two-inning start from an ailing Jaime Garcia.
"They have a great lineup," Zimmermann said. "You get a few guys out and then you've got Beltran, (David) Freese and it never stops. You have to make your pitches and I wasn't able to do that tonight."
Zimmermann has never beaten the Cardinals in six career starts counting the postseason, allowing at least five runs in all but one of them. He yielded five runs and seven hits Monday, his shortest start of the season.
Nationals manager Davey Johnson said Zimmermann didn't mix it up enough and threw too many fastballs.
"All young staffs go through this. When you get into a thing like this, sometimes they revert back to just saying, 'OK, I'm going to go with what I feel is my best and pound away," Johnson said. "Zim's been better than that. You've got to get them off sitting on just one pitch."
After the perfect first inning for Zimmermann, seven of the next 11 batters reached safely as the Cardinals scored four in the second and one in the third to go up 5-1.
Washington catcher Kurt Suzuki said Zimmermann had the same stuff in the second inning as he did in the first. The Cardinals were the ones who made the key adjustments.
"They just came out and put some good at-bats together," Suzuki said. "They put the ball in play, moved runners around and when you do that you are going score some runs."
Craig hit his fifth career postseason homer and scored three times.
"You hate to get blown out, but you get walked off, it probably hurts a little bit more," Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth said. "The game was out of reach for a while. No big deal, a loss is a loss. We'll head home and feel good about it."
Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche hit consecutive homers in the fifth for the Nationals, who head home for the remainder of the best-of-five series. But the NL East champions are without All-Star ace Stephen Strasburg, shut down for the rest of the season early last month to protect his surgically repaired arm.
"I miss him not experiencing this with us and he misses not experiencing it with us," Johnson said. "But we did the right thing, there's no question.
"Obviously the guy was my No. 1. He'd have been the guy that opened up the series."
Game 3 is Wednesday afternoon at Nationals Park, the first postseason contest in the nation's capital since the original Senators played the New York Giants in the 1933 World Series. Edwin Jackson starts for Washington against longtime Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter, who made only three starts during the regular season because of injury.
The Cardinals are good at bouncing back. They lost the division series and NLCS openers last fall, then finished strong in the World Series after spotting Texas a 3-2 lead.
So, they're on familiar ground. And once again, as a wild card.
After the Nationals rallied late to win the opener 3-2, there were no lineup changes in Game 2 — just a lot more clutch hitting from players accustomed to October pressure.
Beltran homered twice in the postseason for the third time in his career, connecting in the sixth off Mike Gonzalez and eighth off Sean Burnett. Jon Jay had two hits and three RBIs, plus an outstanding catch at the center-field wall to deprive Danny Espinosa of extra bases in the sixth.
St. Louis was 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position during Game 1 and totaled just three hits, but the Cardinals had five hits in a four-run second Monday. Descalso hit his first postseason homer in the fourth, a day after getting robbed by Werth's leaping catch at the right-field wall. Beltran's drive off Gonzalez in the sixth banged off the facade in the third deck in left, estimated at 444 feet.
"Their numbers speak for themselves," Johnson said of the Cardinals. "They have got a fine hitting ballclub, and good pitching will slow down good hitting, but you've got to make pitches, and we didn't do that tonight."
Shadows creeped past the pitcher's mound around the third inning and didn't seem to be as big of an issue in Game 2, which started 1½ hours later than the opener. Both teams had issues with the playing conditions after the opener.
Nationals rookie Bryce Harper went 1 for 5 and struck out four times. He also was thrown out at third base on an ill-advised attempt to advance. He is 1 for 10 in the series with six strikeouts.
"Do I look overanxious? You think so?" Harper said to a reporter. "Maybe you should be a hitting coach."
Zimmermann lasted a season-low three innings while pitching on eight days' rest. His next-shortest outing also was against the Cardinals, when he coughed up a four-run, first-inning cushion and was chased after yielding eight runs in 3 2-3 innings during a 10-9 loss at home.
The numbers weren't favorable for the 25-year-old right-hander prior to first pitch, given he's 0-2 with a 9.45 ERA in five career regular-season starts against the Cardinals. They were 3 for 5 with runners in scoring position against a pitcher who led the majors by holding opponents to a .160 average.
Garcia threw 51 pitches in two innings and allowed Zimmermann's RBI single in the second. He was removed with a sore shoulder and sent for an MRI exam. The left-hander missed two months this season with shoulder fatigue.
The Cardinals had 18-game winner Lance Lynn warming up in the second and the right-hander stood on the bullpen mound during St. Louis' four-run inning. Pinch-hitter Skip Schumaker stood on the top dugout step while Pete Kozma struck out for the first out in the second and it was no decoy, with Schumaker contributing a run-scoring groundout to the rally.
St. Louis opened the second with four straight hits, singles by Craig and Yadier Molina that set the table followed by an RBI double from Freese and a run-scoring single from Descalso.