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Inexperienced Nats not fazed by postseason

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Inexperienced Nats not fazed by postseason

ST. LOUIS -- With a pack of reporters firing off questions and trying to get him to admit he's at least mildly caught up in the moment on the eve of the Nationals' first-ever postseason appearance, Bryce Harper refused to concede the point.

"I think you guys are more nervous than we are," the 19-year-old outfielder said. "It's just another game, just another series. I'm excited, but I'm just going to look at it like another game and another place we play and another team we play. I guess when you step in the box it's going to be a lot different with the crowd and everything, but you can't look at it that way."

Across the Nationals clubhouse Saturday evening, that sentiment prevailed. So what if only four of the 25 players on their roster for the National League Division Series have any postseason experience, totaling 67 games? And so what if 21 of the Cardinals' 25 players have been through this before, combining to appear in a staggering 290 postseason games?

The Nationals insist that won't make much of any difference when the two clubs take the field Sunday afternoon for Game 1 of a highly anticipated series.

"I think this team has done it all year, handle our emotions," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "This whole year has been something that's supposed to be new for us. You know, we were in first place and then we shouldn't have been in first place. And then we were in first place and everybody said, oh, they'll lose it. And then we were in first place and they said, OK, maybe they're for real. And then we were in first place ... so everyone always says that stuff. But for us, we always go out there and play one game at a time. I feel like that's why we've done so well this year."

Indeed, the Nationals managed to post an MLB-best 98-64 record by staying within the moment, never looking too far ahead or behind, never getting too high after wins or too low after losses.

This, though, could be an entirely different animal. The postseason is a meat grinder of an experience, with so much more riding on every at-bat and every pitch than most of these first-time participants understand.

Making the challenge all the more difficult: The Nationals' opponent in this best-of-five series. St. Louis remains defending World Series champions and has excelled in the highest of high-pressure situations.

Five times in the last calendar year, the Cardinals have faced a do-or-die elimination game. And five times, they have emerged victorious, including Friday night in their NL Wild Card triumph over the Braves.

"I think playing in big moments year after year gives you an edge," said right-hander Adam Wainwright, who on Sunday will appear in his 11th career postseason game. "I feel like you'll be be more comfortable in those situations when you're faced with it over and over again. And last year's experience, playing the last month of the season like every day was your last ... it gives you an edge."

The Nationals watched Friday night's game with keen interest, knowing they would be facing whichever team escaped Turner Field with the win. They weren't, however, uniformly rooting for one participant or the other.

"We really didn't care who we played," first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "I think I can speak for everybody, it was really 50-50 there. We were watching more as fans than rooting for a specific team because it was a match-up situation. Either way, we were good with it."

The Nationals' pitching staff may have matched up slightly better with the Braves left-handed-heavy lineup, but their lineup may match up slightly better with a Cardinals pitching staff that includes only two lefties: Jaime Garcia (who will start Game 2) and relief specialist Mark Rzepczynski.

Above all else, they'll need their own rotation to hold down a St. Louis that scored 40 runs in seven head-to-head games this season, including 26 during a three-game series here last weekend.

Thus, there will be some pressure on Gio Gonzalez to get his team off on the right foot, hand-picked by Davey Johnson to start Game 1.

"It's really an easy choice," the 69-year-old manager said. "Gio would have hung me if I didn't have him going first."

With Stephen Strasburg relegated to dugout observer following his early-September shutdown, Gonzalez stepped up his game and ascended to the role of staff ace. Over his final six regular-season starts, the lefty went 5-1 with a 1.35 ERA and earned the trust of his teammates and skipper to be handed the ball for their first postseason game.

"It's a childhood dream," the 27-year-old said. "I think it's every kid's childhood dream who wants to play baseball."

As it is for the 20 other members of the Nationals roster who are experiencing the postseason for the first time.

Most, like Harper, have no idea what awaits them. The handful of teammates who have been through this before are trying to make sure they don't get caught up in the hysteria.

"What I've told most of the young guys is: Don't change a thing," LaRoche said. "We're in this position for a reason. We've been one of the best teams in baseball all year. It's obviously worked. Let's continue to do it."

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Nationals lose game and Adam Eaton on the same night

Nationals lose game and Adam Eaton on the same night

WASHINGTON -- Josh Edgin relieved Mets closer Jeurys Familia with the bases loaded in the ninth inning and got Bryce Harper to hit into a game-ending double play, finishing a 7-5 victory over the Washington Nationals on Friday night that stopped New York's six-game losing streak.

New York had lost 10 of 11 and put star slugger Yoenis Cespedes on the disabled list before the game with a strained hamstring. Travis d'Arnaud then homered twice and had five RBIs for the Mets, who were clinging to a two-run lead when they brought in Familia.

Matt Wieters singled leading off, and Adam Lind's single sent pinch runner Joe Ross to third. Adam Eaton followed with an infield single to shortstop and injured his left ankle as he stepped on first base. Eaton needed to be helped off the field and was replaced by pinch runner Chris Heisey.

Unfortunately for Eaton, he awkwardly tagged the front of the bag twisting his left ankle on the infield single. 

Needing help to get off the field, the injury does not bode well for the Nationals early into their season. 

Familia struck out Trea Turner, and Mets manager Terry Collins brought in Edgin, a left-hander, to face the left-handed-hitting Harper.

Harper hit a one-hopper to Edgin, who threw home for a forceout, and d'Arnaud threw to first for the double play, giving Edgin his second big league save and first since 2013.

D'Arnaud hit a two-run homer in the second and a three-run drive in the fourth off Max Scherzer (3-2), who lasted six innings.

Jacob deGrom (1-1) struck out 12 in his third consecutive double-digit strikeout game and the 13th of his career.

Ryan Zimmerman homered twice for the Nationals, who had won 10 of their previous 11. Zimmerman tied Andre Dawson for second on the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals franchise list with 225.

After giving up two home runs in the second, deGrom (1-1) encountered little trouble during the rest of his seven-inning stint. The right-hander retired 15 of the last 19 batters he faced, including nine via strikeout.

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Nationals set franchise record for runs in an inning, blow out Rockies

Nationals set franchise record for runs in an inning, blow out Rockies

DENVER -- Bryce Harper hit a three-run homer as part of an 11-run seventh inning, Trea Turner enjoyed another big game at Coors Field and the Washington Nationals routed the Colorado Rockies 16-5 on Thursday.

Turner proved to be a pitcher's nightmare throughout the four-game series. He hit for the cycle on Tuesday, finished a triple shy of another cycle Wednesday and added a double and two singles in the finale -- in all, he had nine extra-base hits, scored 10 runs and had 11 RBIs.

Washington finished 9-1 on its road trip, taking three of the last four at Colorado. What's more, the Nationals scored 11 or more runs in three straight games for the first time since July 1986 at Atlanta, when the team was the Montreal Expos.

Leading 4-2, the Nationals broke the game open in the seventh by sending 15 batters to the plate and pounding out eight hits, including Harper's eighth homer.

Gonzalez (3-0) scattered seven hits over 6 2/3 innings to improve to 4-0 all-time against Colorado. He also had a good day at the plate with two RBIs, including a bases-loaded walk in the big seventh.

Rockies rookie Antonio Senzatela (3-1) couldn't find his typical command in surrendering four runs over six innings.

Turner, who came off the disabled list less than a week ago, made himself at home.

"This ballpark, for whatever reason, feels pretty comfortable to me," the second-year player said. "It's fun hitting here."

His teammates felt the same way as every starter had a hit Thursday.

Before the game, Rockies manager Bud Black said he was going to talk to Senzatela about not walking the pitcher, which he termed a "bad sin." Both Tyler Chatwood and German Marquez did just that the previous two games, paving the way to costly innings.

Senzatela didn't walk the pitcher, but reliever Carlos Estevez did in the seventh.

The damaging play, though, was earlier in the inning, when first baseman Mark Reynolds fielded Harper's grounder and instead of stepping on the bag, threw home to get the runner he figured was breaking for home. Only, the runner wasn't going and the throw wound up in the dugout.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: RHP Stephen Strasburg was reinstated from the paternity list after the birth of his second daughter. Strasburg is scheduled to throw Saturday against the New York Mets.

Rockies: OF Gerardo Parra made a leaping catch in the sixth just before hitting the wall. Parra was shaking his right hand, but stayed in the game.

RESTING SLUGGERS

Nationals infielder Ryan Zimmerman and Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez didn't start. Both had planned rest days, although manager Dusty Baker struggled with the decision with Zimmerman.

"It's hard to rest him because he's hot," Baker said.

THIS & THAT

OF Charlie Blackmon had two hits to extend his hitting streak to 12 games. ... 3B Nolan Arenado hit a solo homer in the first -- about the only mistake Gonzalez made all afternoon.

UP NEXT

Nationals: RHP Max Scherzer (3-1, 1.95 ERA) starts Friday when the Nationals open a three-game series against the New York Mets. Scherzer has 55 strikeouts in his last five games against the Mets, who will throw RHP Jacob deGrom (0-1).

Rockies: LHP Kyle Freeland (2-1, 3.32 ERA) starts Friday at Arizona. The Diamondbacks will throw LHP Robbie Ray (2-0, 3.42).

Related: Nationals place Koda Glover on Disabled List