Wild-card Nationals head to World Series with sweep of Cards

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WASHINGTON (AP) — It was merely the first inning, yet fans kept rising out of their seats to applaud or yell or twirl their red towels, to chant “Let’s go, Nats!” and “M-V-P!” and various players’ names, enjoying every moment of a seven-run outburst that would, eventually, propel their city to its first World Series appearance in 86 years.

And then, a couple of hours and several innings later, as the Washington Nationals were protecting a shrinking lead, those same spectators, 43,976 strong, stood and shouted and reveled some more Tuesday night, giddily counting down the outs needed to finish off an NL Championship Series sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals.

From 19-31 during a mediocre May to the Fall Classic in an outstanding October.

Extending their stunning turnaround, the wild-card Nationals got RBIs from middle-of-the-order stars Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto in that breakout first inning, and Patrick Corbin’s 12-strikeout performance and a trio of relievers helped hold on to beat St. Louis 7-4 in Game 4 of a lopsided best-of-seven NLCS.

Now the Nationals get plenty of time to rest and set up their rotation before beginning the World Series in a week against the Houston Astros or New York Yankees. Houston leads the best-of-seven AL Championship Series 2-1 after winning Game 3 at New York 4-1 Tuesday.

Corbin, a left-handed pitcher signed with $140 million of the money that became available last offseason when Bryce Harper left town to join the Philadelphia Phillies, was not quite the equal of Washington’s other starters in the series.

Still, he did become the first pitcher to strike out 10 batters in the first four innings of a postseason game and earned the win after allowing four runs in five innings. Then second-year manager Dave Martinez — who so many folks thought might be fired back in May — turned to his NL-worst bullpen, such a problem for so much of this season.

After Tanner Rainey got three outs, and Sean Doolittle got five, Daniel Hudson came in for his fourth save in four chances this postseason. It wasn’t easy, though: After replacing Doolittle with two outs in the eighth, Hudson hit his first batter and walked his second, bringing pinch-hitter Matt Carpenter to the plate as the go-ahead run with the bases loaded.

Carpenter, a career .481 batter with the bases full, grounded out to second baseman Brian Dozier, a defensive replacement who briefly lost the ball before gathering it and throwing to first to end that inning.

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