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Busch Stadium shadows wreak havoc with Nats

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Busch Stadium shadows wreak havoc with Nats

ST. LOUIS -- Nationals Park has its "Sun Monster," as Bryce Harper likes to call it. Busch Stadium has its "Shadow Monster," which reared its ugly head yesterday in Game 1 of the National League Division Series and is likely to make another appearance later today in Game 2.

The effect of the late-afternoon shadows caused by the various overhangs and light standards on the grandstand was obvious during the Nationals' 3-2 victory.

It made it difficult for batters to pick up the ball coming out of the pitcher's hand. It made it tough for infielders to make clean plays on what appeared to be routine grounders. And it left outfielders alternately trying to shade their eyes from the sun, then trying to regroup once flyballs returned to darkness.

Perhaps the only moment where the conditions actually aided the Nationals was on Jayson Werth's home-run-robbing catch of Daniel Descalso's sixth inning drive to the right-field wall.

"The visuals were tough in the outfield all day," Werth said. "And at the plate, too. This is a tough place to play as the day goes on. Luckily on the ball that I caught at the wall ... I was surprised actually that I caught it, because I was just having a hard time seeing it. When I went back and looked on video my last couple steps at the wall, I went in the shade. And that allowed me to get a good bead on it and time out the jump. But up until then, I was pretty much panicking 'cause it was a ball that I was pretty unsure on."

Werth's catch helped save the day for the Nationals and gave them a chance to rally late, which they did on Tyler Moore's eighth-inning single off Mark Rzepczynski. But that catch might not have carried as much significance had the Cardinals held a bigger lead at that point, something their players felt might have been possible had they been able to see the ball better at the plate.

When the game began at 2:08 p.m. local time, the shadows hadn't quite reached home plate. But by the third inning, the batter's box was in darkness while the pitcher's mound was in bright sunshine.

Over the next several innings, the dynamic changed over and over again, with various combinations of sunshine and shadows affecting batters from both sides.

"I think the toughest thing was, it was different every single at-bat," Ryan Zimmerman said. "So you go up there, the first at-bat was OK and then you could see it starting to creep in. Right before my second at-bat, it was almost right where the catcher was, so it wasn't quite there yet. And then my third at-bat and from there on, you go through different things where it's light in the back, dark at the plate, where it's light-dark-light."

"It's hard to square the ball up when you can't see it," Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday told reporters. "I don't know if you noticed, but both teams had a hard time squaring the ball up."

Major league players, creatures of habit if ever there were any, get used to playing games during the regular season at mostly regular times (usually the 1 p.m. hour for day games, the 7 p.m. hour for night games). Come October, though, odd starting times become the norm, with TV networks trying to stagger the starts of as many as four games a day to their national audiences.

"It's a shame, is what it is," Holliday said. "You play all year, get these opportunities, and this is the game. You play all year at 1:00 and 7:00, then you get to the most important part of the year and you're playing at weird times."

Look for more of the same today in Game 2, which is scheduled to begin at 3:37 p.m. CDT (4:37 p.m. EDT).

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Nationals win 6-2 after Stephen Strasburg leaves in second inning

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USA TODAY Sports

Nationals win 6-2 after Stephen Strasburg leaves in second inning

PHOENIX -- Stephen Strasburg left after struggling with his control in the second inning, and the Washington Nationals wrapped up a successful nine-game trip with a 6-2 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday.

There was no word from the Nationals during the game explaining the standout right-hander's departure.

Strasburg, 10-3 with a 3.31 ERA entering the game, uncharacteristically walked the No. 8 and No. 9 batters in the second inning before departing with a 5-0 lead. He threw 51 pitches, 29 strikes.

Brian Goodwin's leadoff homer ignited a four-run first inning off Robbie Ray (9-5), who lasted five innings, allowing five runs.

Bryce Harper singled in the first to extend his hitting streak to 16 games.

Wilmer Difo hit his second home run of the season off reliever T.J. McFarland in the seventh.

Joe Blanton (1-2) got two outs and earned the win.

The NL East-leading Nationals took two of three in Arizona to go 7-2 on the trip.

Nine players batted for Washington in the opening inning. Goodwin started it with a booming shot high above the home run line across the batter's eye in straightaway center.

Difo and Harper singled and Ryan Zimmerman's sacrifice fly made it 2-0. Daniel Murphy walked and Anthony Rendon singled in a run. Jose Lobaton capped the scoring with a two-out RBI single before Strasburg bounced into a fielder's choice to end Ray's 39-pitch inning.

Arizona broke through with two runs in the fifth.

Chris Iannetta had a pinch-hit single with one out and David Descalso walked before Ketel Marte and David Peralta each singled in a run. With runners at first and third and one out, Blanton came on to strike out Paul Goldschmidt and got Chris Owings to ground into a fielder's choice.

The Diamondbacks had runners at second and third with one out in the sixth but Enny Romero struck out A.J. Pollock and Descalso bounced out to second. Romero left the game in the seventh with an apparent injury.

Arizona, 3-6 since the All-Star break, stranded 11 runners.

Washington's Andrew Stevenson, called up from Triple-A Syracuse, was 0 for 2 in his major league debut.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: Washington placed OF Chris Heisey on the 10-day DL. Heisey strained his left groin in Saturday night's 4-3 victory. Additionally, OF Ryan Raburn was placed on the bereavement list.

Diamondbacks: J.D. Martinez appeared in his first game in Arizona as a Diamondback after missing three games with a bruised wrist, the result of being hit by a pitch in his Diamondbacks debut. He walked as a pinch hitter in the seventh.

UP NEXT

Nationals: Washington has Monday off and hosts Milwaukee on Tuesday. RH Edwin Jackson makes his second start for the Nationals.

Diamondbacks: Arizona begins a three-game home series against Atlanta on Monday night. Zack Greinke (11-4, 2.93 ERA), 9-0 with a 2.41 ERA in 11 home starts, goes for the Diamondbacks. R.A. Dickey (6-6, 4.14) counters for the Braves.

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Bryce Harper powers Nationals past Diamondbacks

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Bryce Harper powers Nationals past Diamondbacks

PHOENIX -- The newest additions to the Washington bullpen came through when called upon to help deliver a victory to their new team.

Sean Doolittle stranded the potential tying run by escaping a jam for his second save for Washington, and Ryan Madson tossed a scoreless eighth inning as the Nationals held off the Arizona Diamondbacks 4-3 on Saturday night.

"The game can really speed up on you once you start getting guys on base," said Doolittle, who with Madson arrived in a trade with Oakland earlier in the week. "The crowd and the energy of the stadium can kind of take over and ... you have to be mindful enough to step off the mound, slow the game down a bit, kind of press reset."

Bryce Harper homered and drove in two runs, and starting pitcher Tanner Roark struck out a season-high 11. Roark (8-6) gave up two runs and three hits in seven innings for the NL East-leading Nationals.

"Curveball felt good. Just keep the hitter guessing," Roark said.

Harper hit his 25th home run on a full-count offspeed pitch from Anthony Banda (0-1), who lost in his major league debut.

Chris Iannetta hit a two-out RBI double in the bottom half, but the Nationals opened a 4-1 lead with a three-run sixth.

Harper hit a run-scoring double and scored on Ryan Zimmerman's double, and Anthony Rendon beat out an RBI single that sent Zimmerman home.

"They had a young guy out there that throws the ball really hard, has good command. He's going to be really good in the next couple of years for sure," Harper said of Banda. "Just got him this time and got a few runs up there."

A.J. Pollock tripled in the bottom half and scored on Jake Lamb's groundout, and Arizona reliever Jorge De La Rosa got out of bases-loaded trouble in the seventh when he struck out Harper and Zimmerman.

Doolittle, acquired from Oakland last weekend, walked Lamb leading off the ninth. Iannetta hit a broken-bat grounder to third, and Rendon's throw to second went into right field for an error that put runners on the corners.

Paul Goldschmidt hit a sacrifice fly, Chris Owings flied out and Doolittle struck out Ketel Marte for his second save with the Nationals.

"Madson's been great for us. Doolittle ... he never panics. It was great to see. It's a lot of fun to have a back end like that," Harper said.

Banda allowed four runs and seven hits in 5 2/3 innings, struck out five and walked none. He was optioned back to Triple-A Reno after the game.

"I felt confident. I threw the ball in the zone and kept attacking hitters," Banda said. "I made a couple of mistakes, Harper and the middle of the lineup."