From Comcast SportsNetST. LOUIS (AP) -- Rookies in the postseason, the Washington Nationals played like poised veterans.The Nationals escaped a bases-loaded jam in the seventh inning, pinch hitter Tyler Moore blooped a two-out, two-run single in the eighth and Washington beat the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals 3-2 Sunday in an NL playoff opener.The Nationals, who had never come close to making the playoffs since moving from Montreal for the 2005 season, overcame a wild start by 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez.Reliever Ryan Mattheus needed just two pitches to bail out the Nationals in the seventh with St. Louis ahead 2-1. Tyler Clippard worked around an error in the eighth and Drew Storen saved it with a 1-2-3 ninth.The NL East champion Nationals led the majors with 98 wins this season, and brought postseason baseball to Washington for the first time since 1933. The Nats go for a 2-0 series lead Monday when Jordan Zimmermann opposes Jaime Garcia.The Cardinals made it to the best-of-five division series by beating Atlanta in the wild-card matchup Friday. But St. Louis wasted a 10-strikeout gem by Adam Wainwright, failing to capitalize enough on Gonzalez's career high-tying seven walks and frustrating its towel-waving fans.A standing room crowd of 47,078, among the largest at 7-year-old Busch Stadium, bundled up for a game that began in 54-degree chill and featured kaleidoscope late-afternoon shadows that bedeviled hitters for several innings.Rookie shortstop Pete Kozma misplayed Michael Morse's grounder for an error to open the eighth and set up the Nationals' go-ahead rally. Ian Desmond followed with a single off Mitchell Boggs for his third hit of the game, putting runners at the corners.Danny Espinsoa sacrificed, leaving runners at second and third, and Kurt Suzuki struck out. In a series of moves, the Nationals sent up Chad Tracy to pinch hit, the Cardinals switched to lefty Marc Rzepczynski and Washington subbed in Moore, who had two of their three pinch homers this season.Moore poked an outside pitch to right field and both runners scored easily.Wainwright became the first Cardinals pitcher to reach double digits in strikeouts since Bob Gibson also fanned 10 to beat the Tigers in Game 4 of the 1968 World Series.Wainwright was a 14-game winner coming off reconstructive elbow surgery that sidelined him all of 2011, with 10 of the wins coming at home. He's been a postseason ace with a microscopic 0.77 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 23 1-3 innings.He fanned Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman twice each and seventh-place hitter Espinosa all three times.Gonzalez allowed just one hit in five innings, on David Freese's full-count bouncer between third and short to start the fourth. But he had trouble finding catcher Kurt Suzuki's glove.The second inning was Gonzalez' shakiest when he allowed the Cardinals to score twice and take the lead without a hit. Gonzalez walked four of the first five hitters, putting St. Louis in position to score one run on a wild pitch and a second on Jon Jay's bases-loaded sacrifice fly.Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth robbed Daniel Descalso of a two-run homer off with a leaping catch to keep it at 2-1 in the sixth. Descalso had a fielding gem of his own in the seventh, ranging far to his left to glove Harper's grounder and then throwing him out by a few steps.
The Redskins got a boost Sunday when rookie linebacker Su'a Cravens returned to the field after missing two games with a concussion. Interestingly, however, Cravens did not provide the spark many expected as he played just 11 of 53 defensive snaps.
Certainly it's possible the 'Skins coaches decided to ease their rookie back in after suffering a head injury. But that logic seems flawed - Cravens was cleared by the NFL concussion protocol, and once a player is cleared, it's for full-game action.
Another thought might be that the Washington defense excelled while Cravens was out. He missed Redskins' wins in Baltimore and home against the Eagles, two games where Joe Barry's group shut down the opposing offenses. It's definitely possible coaches elected to stick with a combination of Will Compton and Mason Foster on the field at the inside linebacker positions.
Looking at snap counts from Compton and Foster, it appears that's what the coaches decided. Compton played every defensive snap, and Foster was on the field for 40 of the defenses 53 snaps.
What, if any, role change that means for Cravens will be interesting. Before his injury, Cravens' playing time was trending up, as he had 29 snaps against the Giants and 27 snaps against the Browns before being injured in the 3rd quarter. Cravens was on the field as the nickel and dime linebacker in most situations.
Sunday, that wasn't the case, as the team played a lot of nickel. Slot corner Kendall Fuller, another rookie, was on the field for 40 snaps.
Easing Cravens back in slowly was likely by design, and for a second-round pick with a mountain of promise, a prudent course for the Redskins coaches. That said, as CSN's Rich Tandler likes to point out, in the NFL, cleared is cleared.
Cravens has playmaking ability, he's displayed that already this young season. In fact, he nearly pulled down Lions QB Matt Stafford for a sack on Sunday despite what looked like an obvious hold.
Scot McCloughan drafted Cravens just for that - despite being a positional hyrbid, the rookie is a 'football player,' just like McCloughan wants. This Sunday against the Bengals, with two weeks of practice after the concussion, it will be interesting to see how many chances Cravens gets.
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OWINGS MILLS – Will wide receiver Breshad Perriman give the Ravens more production after the bye?
The Ravens need more impact from Perriman, still looking for his first NFL touchdown with just 14 catches for 183 yards in seven games. He was a first-round pick (26th overall) in 2015, but missed his entire rookie season with a knee injury. Finally able to play, Perriman entered this season with high expectations, yet he has struggled for consistency, just like the team’s entire offense.
Following the Ravens’ fourth-straight loss Sunday against the Jets, Perriman was visibly dejected in the locker room, talking with teammate Mike Wallace after catching just one pass for 11 yards. Two passes intended for Perriman were intercepted, and it was clear quarterback Joe Flacco and Perriman weren’t always on the same page during Perriman’s routes.
Asked what he was thinking after that game, Perriman said, “What could I have potentially done better to stop that from happening? The fact that we lost, honestly, made it worse.”
There is no doubt Perriman cares deeply, and the beginning of his career has been far from easy. Is Perriman pressing, or beginning to lose confidence? Ravens wide receivers coach Bobby Engram works with Perriman daily, and doesn’t see it that way.
“I think he’s mentally strong,” Engram said. “I think all good players beat themselves up pretty good when they make mistakes, but I don’t see any carryover or lingering in terms of his work in the classroom. He’s just a different personality. I think he’s hard on himself, and I think that’s a good thing. Mentally, he’s fine.”
However, Perriman has looked raw running routes at times, which has telegraphed his intentions, and made it harder for him to burn defensive backs with his speed.
“He is starting to understand how to really run routes,” Engram said. “He hasn’t played a lot of football in this league, but he has a great foundation here in terms of this offense and being around these guys and being in the building.”
However, for Perriman to blossom in November and December, he will have to improve quickly. The Ravens don’t have the greatest history drafting wide receivers, but with Perriman, they strongly believe he has both the skill, and the will, to become an impact receiver.
“He is very determined, he really wants to be good,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh. “He and I talk a lot. I told him, ‘I just am impatient. You have all this talent, and there is a lot to learn, but I just want to speed the curve up.’ Obviously, he said he could not agree more. We just have to keep chasing it. It is going to happen, and let’s try to make it happen sooner rather than later.”
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