Closer Jason Isringhausen pitched to two hitters, one before a rain delay of 1 hour, 41 minutes and one to finally close it out, in an 8-6 victory Saturday night.
"It was our fault," manager Tony La Russa said. "We had a couple of relievers that needed relief.
"We should have closed those innings out sooner, and we wouldn't have had to worry about it. Now we've got the rubber game tomorrow -- in a little while."
Brad Thompson (3-1) allowed three runs and 10 hits in 5 1/3 innings, and Jim Edmonds had two hits and three RBI for the Cardinals, winners of four of their last five. Albert Pujols was 2-for-4 to extend his hitting streak to 10 games, Scott Rolen had a two-run double, and Adam Kennedy had two hits and a bases-loaded walk.
St. Louis knocked out Levale Speigner (1-1) in the fourth, but had a long wait for the final out due to a storm that intensified during the inning while umpires ignored the downpour as long as they could. Before the delay, Kelvin Jimenez got the first two outs, the second on a questionable called third strike to Ryan Zimmerman that prompted a prolonged protest from the dugout by Nationals manager Manny Acta.
Acta said he had "no comment" whether the umpires were in a rush to finish the game.
"No one wants to go through this, but you've got to give credit to our guys," Acta said. "We battled until the last minute."
Ryan Church and Austin Kearns followed with back-to-back doubles to cut the deficit to three. The Cardinals brought in Isringhausen, prompting another delay, and after Dmitri Young's RBI single cut the gap to two runs the game was halted.
When the game resumed, Isringhausen got Jesus Flores to foul out for his 13th save in 14 chances.
In the finale of the three-game series Sunday, the Nationals will be seeking their first series win over the Cardinals since 1999. Washington has won 11 of 16 overall.
Speigner, a 2006 Rule 5 pickup in the rotation due to a rash of injuries that has sidelined four-fifths of the Washington rotation, allowed eight runs and eight hits in 3 1/3 innings. In three starts covering only 10 1/3 innings he has allowed 17 runs, and he has an 8.39 ERA overall in 15 appearances.
"Well, obviously it wasn't a very good outing," Acta said "We put a lot of stress on our bullpen and we have five days to evaluate and we'll see what the alternatives will be."
Cardinals left fielder Chris Duncan lost track of a fly ball for the second time in four days when Young's routine fly ball dropped in front of him in the sixth. Later in the sixth he made the defensive play of the game with a diving catch on Felipe Lopez's bases-loaded drive to the gap, holding him to a sacrifice fly.
Duncan said he lost Young's fly ball in a "big thundercloud or something. I just couldn't see it."
"Everybody loses balls in the twilight, that's just a freak play," La Russa said. "But he definitely sacrifices his body. He's willing to dive for everything."
Thompson made his fourth start as the replacement for injured Chris Carpenter in the rotation. In six appearances covering 12 2/3 innings against the Nationals, all but one of them in relief, he's 2-0 with a 2.13 ERA.
"I didn't have my best stuff, but I got through a few innings," Thompson said. "I'd like to do a lot more with 100 pitches than 5 1/3, but we'll take it."
After Church's RBI single in the first gave the Nationals the lead, Edmonds answered with a two-run single in the bottom half. His run-scoring single in the third made it 3-1.
The Cardinals broke the game open in the fourth with some help from Young, who got confused after failing to convince the umpires that he had snared Scott Spiezio's low liner to first with the bases loaded. Young tried to sell the play as a catch while baserunners froze. Young then faked a throw to third while David Eckstein ran home. Young's throw was late and St. Louis took a 5-1 lead.
The play was ruled a fielder's choice.
Rolen followed with a two-run double and Kennedy's bases-loaded walk made it 8-1. Pinch hitter Ryan Langerhans added an RBI single in a two-run sixth and pinch hitter Tony Batista had a sacrifice fly in the eighth for Washington.
- The Cardinals have scored in the first inning only four times in their first 46 games, and have been outscored 34-9 in the opening inning.
- Edmonds has a five-game RBI streak, totaling seven.
- The Cardinals are 19-9 when scoring three or more runs and 1-17 otherwise.
- Zimmerman had two hits after entering in a 2-for-16 slump.
- Ryan Franklin got the last two outs in the eighth, his first appearance in six days. Franklin was at home with strep throat Wednesday and Thursday.
- Eckstein had three singles and is 9-for-22 (.409) in his last five games.