ST. LOUIS -- For the most part, the Nationals were devoid of first-time postseason jitters in their 3-2 win over the Cardinals in Game 1 on Sunday. The obvious exception was Gio Gonzalez, who walked a career-high seven batters and appeared overly anxious in his first start in the playoffs.
But Washington manager Davey Johnson said Monday that second baseman Danny Espinosa, who went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts, was perhaps affected by the magnitude of the moment in his first postseason experience.
"He's healthy. I think he's just a little amped up," Johnson said. "He finished the season kind of being a little overly aggressive, and I think the situation's kind of pushing him to be a little overly aggressive."
Espinosa struck out looking on four pitches in the second inning, went down swinging on three pitches in the fourth, and again on four pitches in the sixth inning before eventually trying to bunt for a hit amid the Nationals' eighth-inning rally. The move worked out, as Espinosa pushed Michael Morse and Ian Desmond into scoring position, but it was the only time the second baseman put a ball in play all game.
Espinosa ended the regular season with three hits and 12 strikeouts in his last 32 plate appearances, battling a left shoulder injury that required a cortisone shot.
"He's tough, and he's smart," Johnson said. "He'll be all right."
Postseason stage doesn't intimidate Desmond
ST. LOUIS -- Shortstop Ian Desmond had to toil through years in the Minor Leagues, first with the Expos and then with the Nationals, and suffer through a few more losing seasons in the Majors before reaching the playoffs Sunday. But he made his first impression a good one Sunday on the game's biggest stage.
Desmond went 3-for-4 and was involved in both of the Nationals' rallies in their 3-2 win over the Cardinals in Game 1. He knocked a one-out single that sent Adam LaRoche from first to third in the second inning, setting up LaRoche coming around to score on an RBI single by Kurt Suzuki. And Desmond singled, advanced Michael Morse to third and eventually scored on Tyler Moore's game-deciding, two-run pinch-hit single in the eighth.
"I think that there's no secret to what I'm trying to do up there. I'm not trying to surprise anybody," Desmond said. "I'm not trying to do any tricks or anything like that. I'm trying to go up there, get a good pitch to hit and hit it.
"I think if I can control my heartbeat, I don't feel that these games are any different than the rest of them."
Indeed, it wasn't a surprise to see Desmond play so well in the playoffs. When healthy, he put together a .292/.335/.511 batting line this season and became one of the best all-around shortstops in the Majors. He bashed 25 homers, drove in 73 runs, scored 72 runs and stole 21 bases in 130 games, leading the Nationals in Wins Above Replacement (5.4), according to FanGraphs.com.
And Desmond didn't shy away from his first chance in the postseason spotlight, either.
"He's kind of proven that all year. He's had some huge hits for us in some big situations," LaRoche said. "I don't know that he lets the game or the circumstances dictate the way he plays. He's been solid out there all year.
"He's been fun to watch from last year and how much he's evolved into a really good all-around ballplayer this year. And I don't know that he's scratched the surface yet."
Nats, Cards both having to adjust to shadows
ST. LOUIS -- As expected, the Busch Stadium shadows have been the talk of the series so far. They made an impact on the Nationals' 3-2 Game 1 win Sunday, keeping Adam Wainwright's curveball nearly impossible to pick up and limiting the offensive output on both sides.
They were in play again in Monday's 3:37 p.m. CT start, creeping in between the mound and home plate earlier than they did Sunday. Hitters on both clubs said it is difficult to pick up pitches, and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman pointed out that the hardest part might have been how different the shadows were each at-bat.
"I don't know how to explain it. When they're throwing it, you don't see spin real well," Adam LaRoche said Sunday night. "The ball looks dark, and you can't pick up spin. If you're not seeing that, it can be tough to read sliders and curveballs. It just makes it hard. But it's the same for both teams, so we can't complain.
"I think it becomes more of a battle from the first pitch. I don't think you can take as many chances, not being able to pick up spin the way we normally can. I don't know if there's any cloud cover or what, but it was definitely tough. I think you almost go into a shorter swing or two-strike approach ... right off the bat."
Game time set for Game 3 at Nationals Park
ST. LOUIS -- The nation's capital will host its first playoff game in 79 years on Wednesday, and Major League Baseball announced Monday afternoon that Game 3 of the National League Division Series will begin at 1 p.m. ET at Nationals Park.
The game will air on MLB Network, with Bob Costas and Jim Kaat on the call. Edwin Jackson is slated to start for the Nationals, and the Cardinals will give the ball to Chris Carpenter.
The early start has to be good news for Washington manager Davey Johnson, who said earlier Monday that he hoped to avoid any late-afternoon start times given the problems the sun -- the "sun monster," as center fielder Bryce Harper called it -- has given outfielders at Nationals Park. With first pitch at 1:07 p.m., that means the sun shouldn't cause any issues early on but could become a factor toward the end of the game.
"The only point I'm concerned about is the one at home; I hope it's not four o'clock," Johnson said before Game 2 on Monday. "We have a terrible sun field, and I hate for games to be decided because somebody happens to hit one in the sun. ... About four, five o'clock, that's when the sun is really terrible at our place."