Nationals to play winner of the American League Championship Series

WASHINGTON: General manager Mike Rizzo and Manager Dave Martinez #4 of the Washington Nationals celebrate with the trophy after winning game four and the National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park in Washington, DC.  – AFP

WASHINGTON: The Washington Nationals reached the World Series for the first time in franchise history on Tuesday after completing a 4-0 series sweep over the St. Louis Cardinals. A blistering first inning laid the foundation for a 7-4 victory over a Cardinals team who rallied in the fifth but were unable to overturn the deficit.

Nats ace Patrick Corbin fanned 12 batters through five innings before finally allowing four runs as the Cardinals attempted to claw their way back into contention. The Nationals will now play the winner of the American League Championship Series — either the Houston Astros or New York Yankees — in game one of the World Series next Tuesday.

The NL Championship Series victory marked the latest chapter of an improbable season for Washington, who were 19-31 earlier this year with little apparent hope of reaching the playoffs. Prior to Tuesday’s win, the Nationals were one of only two Major League Baseball teams, along with the Seattle Mariners, who had never reached a World Series. The Nationals had also carried a miserable postseason record into the playoffs having never won a series before 2019.

“I can’t put this moment into words,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “Often bumpy roads lead to beautiful places — and this is a beautiful place,” added Martinez, who only last month underwent a heart procedure. “These guys back here cured my heart,” Martinez said. “My heart feels great right now. I can’t wait to do this next week.” A comeback win over Milwaukee in the wild-card game then saw them advance to a dramatic NL Division Series where they stunned the Los Angeles Dodgers with an upset 3-2 series win last week.

FIRST INNING ONSLAUGHT

Three convincing wins over St. Louis in the opening games of the NLCS had left them on the brink of the World Series, and before an expectant Nationals Park on Tuesday they were in no mood to be denied. With a sea of red-shirted fans roaring them om, the Nats raced into a 7-0 lead in a disastrous first inning for the Cardinals. Cards starting pitcher Dakota Hudson was given a brutal mauling, with Anthony Rendon’s sacrifice fly scoring Trea Turner to start the onslaught.

Juan Soto’s sharp line drive saw Adam Eaton scamper home for 2-0 before a misfield by Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong loaded the bases. Another fielding blunder by the Cardinals — Jose Martinez failing to collect a straightforward fly ball from Victor Robles — allowed Soto to score for 3-0.

Yan Gomes’s single then sent Howie Kendrick and Ryan Zimmerman home for 5-0, by which time Cardinals manager Mike Shildt had seen enough, yanking Hudson off the mound for Adam Wainwright.

Wainwright’s arrival did little to staunch the bleeding however, with Turner’s single on a line drive allowing Robles and Gomes to score for a 7-0 lead. Yadier Molina homered for the Cardinals in the fourth to make it 7-1, before Harrison Bader scored in the fifth. A Martinez double allowed Wong and Dexter Fowler to score but the Nationals bullpen held firm to close out victory. The victory was sweet for Nationals veteran Howie Kendrick, who was named series MVP after going 5 for 15 with four doubles and four RBI.

“All of the blood, sweat and tears and grinding, the losses, the wins come down to this moment,” Kendrick said as he received his MVP award. “I can truly say this is the best moment of my career.” – AFP