The St. Louis Cardinals enjoyed a typical high-output day against Jordan Zimmermann. The bats came alive when they needed it most.
Allen Craig and Daniel Descalso homered early to build a nice cushion and Carlos Beltran added two long shots in a 12-4 rout over the Washington Nationals on Monday night that evened the best-of-five series at a game apiece.
"If we get things going, we feel like we can carry the team," Craig said. "As you saw tonight, we put a lot of good swings on the ball and really drove the ball. It was a lot of fun."
The Cardinals chased Zimmermann after three innings, his shortest outing of the season, and took care of business in what could be the final home game of the season. A day after managing just three hits, there was no carry-over.
"You've got to be confident," third baseman David Freese said. "We're one of the few teams left. They still think they can take the series, and so do we."
Johnson said Zimmermann, pitching on eight days' rest, relied too heavily on outside fastballs that the Cardinals were able to time. The right-hander's next-shortest outing this year 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.
He's 0-2 with a 9.45 ERA in five career regular-season starts against St. Louis, which was 3 for 5 with runners in scoring position against a pitcher who led the majors in holding opponents to a .160 average in that category.
The Cardinals had more than enough to compensate for a two-inning start from an ailing Jaime Garcia, who had an MRI exam for a shoulder injury. The lefty missed two months with shoulder fatigue during the season.
"I don't know how it happened, I don't know when it happened," Garcia said. "I'm just hoping it's not too bad."
Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche hit consecutive homers in the fifth for the Nationals, who head home for the remainder of the series. 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," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "But we did the right thing, there's no question.
"He'd have been the guy that opened 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.
"You hate to get blown out, but you get walked off, it probably hurts a little bit more," the Nationals' 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."
Jackson pitched on the Cardinals' World Series title team last fall before signing a free-agent deal with Washington.
"Having E-Jax on the bump is going to be great for us," Nationals 19-year-old rookie Bryce Harper said. "He's unbelievable in the postseason, unbelievable in the playoffs. The Cardinals know that.
"Facing Carpenter is going to be tough for us but playing at home will be a lot of fun."
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.
"I hope I never see this offense again," Johnson said in the postgame interview room.
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.
Late last season, after complaints from Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman, the Cardinals said they'd try not to schedule late afternoon games that might be affected.
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's 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."
Lance Lynn, an 18-game winner who would likely replace Garcia in the rotation, struck out five in a three-inning stint marred by the consecutive homers.
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. After the Cardinals went down in order in the first, seven of their next 11 hitters reached safely.
"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."
NOTES: Cardinals RHP Jake Westbrook, rehabbing from a pulled oblique, will leave the team for a few days to be with his wife, due to deliver the couple's fourth child. GM John Mozeliak said it's "not likely" that Westbrook, a 13-game winner, will be able to pitch this fall. ... Beltran has 13 career postseason homers. His last two-homer game in the postseason was Oct. 15, 2006, with the Mets against St. Louis in the NLCS. ... The Cardinals matched the franchise high for runs in a division series game. They also scored 12 in 2002 against Arizona.