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Nationals set to play defending champion Cardinals

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Nationals set to play defending champion Cardinals

If the Nationals are going to win their first-ever postseason series, they're going to have to take out the defending World Series champs.

The Nationals will face the Cardinals in the National League Division Series after tonight's wild Wild Card Game victory by St. Louis, a 6-3 triumph over the Braves aided in part by an apparent misapplication of the Infield Fly Rule.

That is, assuming Major League Baseball doesn't uphold Atlanta's formal protest of the game after the controversial call in the bottom of the eighth inning. With one out and runners on first and second, rookie Andrelton Simmons lofted a popup into shallow left field. Shortstop Pete Kozma backtracked and appeared ready to make the play but then pulled off as left fielder Matt Holliday came charging in, the ball falling to the turf as everyone advanced a base.

Left field umpire Sam Holbrook, though, signaled for the Infield Fly Rule, declaring Simmons out while allowing both runners to advance one base. Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez raced out to argue with Holbrook, who didn't make the call until a split-second before the ball came down, and later filed a formal protest with crew chief Jeff Kellogg.

It's unclear how long it will take for MLB officials to rule on the protest, which if upheld would require the game to be resumed from that point. It appears unlikely that would happen, though, because protests can only be upheld if a rule was misinterpreted, not based on a judgment call like this.

UPDATE AT 9:40 P.M. -- MLB has denied the protest, on the grounds the play involved a judgment call, not a rules interpretation.

The crowd at Turner Field offered up its own protest, littering the field with bottles and garbage and forcing a lengthy delay as players retreated to their dugouts.

Ultimately, Cardinals closer Jason Motte entered to escape the eighth-inning jam and then another one in the ninth to win the game.

Thus, the Nationals are scheduled to fly to St. Louis late tomorrow morning in advance of an afternoon workout at Busch Stadium. The two teams will open the NLDS Sunday at 3:07 p.m. EDT, with Gio Gonzalez on the mound for Washington and Adam Wainwright starting for the Cardinals.

The Nationals were just in St. Louis last weekend, dropping two of three games and failing to clinch the NL East title. They did win the season series against the Cardinals, 4-3, with all seven games being played over the last month of the regular season.

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Nats hit 8 HRs to blast Brewers 15-2

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USA TODAY Sports

Nats hit 8 HRs to blast Brewers 15-2

The Washington Nationals tied a franchise record with eight home runs, including two apiece by Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman, and Max Scherzer pitched six innings of three-hit ball in a 15-2 rout of the fading Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday.

Washington matched two major league records in a seven-run third inning: Most consecutive home runs (four) and most home runs in an inning (five).

After Harper connected off Michael Blazek (0-1) in the first inning, Brian Goodwin started the long-ball barrage in the third with a two-run drive. Wilmer Difo, Harper and Zimmerman followed with long home runs.

MORE NATIONALS: Watch the Nats hit back to back homeruns 

The streak was interrupted when Daniel Murphy flied out, after which some of the fans reacted with good-natured booing.

Anthony Rendon resumed the fun with a shot to dead center that finally chased Blazek, whose first major league start was memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Zimmerman and Jose Lobaton both homered off Wily Peralta in the fourth for a 15-1 lead.

The eight home runs tied the franchise mark set in July 1978 by the Montreal Expos against Atlanta.

Scherzer (12-5) allowed one run and struck out nine to bring his total this year to 201 -- his sixth consecutive season with at least 200, the longest active streak in the majors.

The right-hander had plenty of offensive support, most notably from Harper, who had three hits and four RBIs while extending his career-best hitting streak to 19 games.

Travis Shaw and Lewis Brinson homered for the Brewers, who have lost nine of 11 to drop from first place in the NL Central.

Blazek gave up seven hits, six of them home runs, in just 2 1/3 innings. Peralta allowed seven runs and eight hits in 1 2/3 innings, a performance that raised his ERA to 7.85.

MOVE OVER, HONDO

Zimmerman's two home runs upped his total with the Nationals to 237, tied with Frank Howard for most in Washington history.

Known affectionately as "Hondo," the 6-foot-7 Howard played with the expansion Senators from 1965-71.

ROSTER MOVE

The Brewers added RHP Anthony Swarzak to the roster after obtaining him Wednesday in a trade with the White Sox.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: RHP Stephen Strasburg (10-3, 3.25 ERA) was placed on the 10-day disabled list with an elbow impingement. Manager Dusty Baker expects Strasburg to miss only one start. ... OF Michael Taylor (oblique strain) is almost ready to begin baseball activities, Baker said. Taylor has been on the DL since July 7.

UP NEXT

Brewers: Brent Suter (1-1, 2.84 ERA) takes the mound Friday night in the opener of a three-game showdown with the visiting Chicago Cubs.

Nationals: Tanner Roark (8-6, 4.83 ERA) helps Washington launch a three-game series at home against the Colorado Rockies.

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Watch the Nationals hit back-to-back-to-back-to-back HRs against the Brewers

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Watch the Nationals hit back-to-back-to-back-to-back HRs against the Brewers

Bryce Harper was thrown out in the eighth inning of Wednesday's win over the Brewers.

Apparently, he needs to be thrown out of games more.

Harper's second home run of the game Thursday against the Brewers, was part of a four straight home run barrage the Nationals put together in the third inning.

First it was Brian Goodwin homering to right to start things off.

Then it was Wilmer Difo's turn.

Harper was next, which by the way was already his second of the game.

Ryan Zimmerman made sure he kept the streak going after Harper.

And now all four at once, just for emphasis.

The Nats weren't done in the inning either. After Daniel Murphy would fly out to center and end the streak, Anthony Rendon would add another home run to the inning. 

The Nationals became the eighth team in MLB history to hit four straight home runs. The Diamondbacks were the last back in 2010.