WASHINGTON (AP) — There's a simple reason St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha felt comfortable putting a changeup in the ground with the bases loaded in the seventh inning of a tie game.
Yadier Molina was behind the plate.
"He's as good as anybody that I've ever seen, as far as keeping the ball in front," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said about his catcher. "That's a spot that we want (Macha) being able to throw balls in the dirt, because we know (Molina's) going to make that play almost all the time. Today was one of those times that's very rare."
Wacha's wild pitch was compounded by Molina's throwing error to allow two unearned runs, helping Gio Gonzalez and the Washington Nationals beat St. Louis 3-1 Friday night.
Gonzalez (3-1) allowed one run and four hits in seven innings, retiring the last 11 batters he faced. He finished with seven strikeouts and one walk as Washington ended an eight-game losing streak against St. Louis that dated to Game 5 of the teams' 2012 NL division series.
Wacha (2-1) gave up five hits and one earned run. But a night after the Nationals made three errors — they initially were charged with four, but one was changed to a hit Friday — it was the Cardinals' turn to be sloppy.
St. Louis finished with three errors, two coming in the pivotal seventh inning.
A pair of singles and an error by third baseman Matt Carpenter — who dropped Wacha's throw of Danny Espinosa's bunt — loaded the bases with no outs in the seventh.
"I stretched before I saw where it was going and ended up missing it. It was a good throw. I should have caught it," Carpenter said. "But it tipped off my glove and ended up being the difference in the game."
Wacha struck out Nate McLouth and got Jose Lobaton to hit a roller that led to a forceout at home. But with pinch hitter Zach Walters up, Wacha's pitch darted away from Molina, who won his sixth consecutive NL Gold Glove award in 2013.
"Just spiked a changeup," Wacha said.
With Ian Desmond racing home from third, Molina tried to make an underhand toss to Wacha. But the throw — which did not appear in time to beat Desmond, anyway — was off-target. It went into the Cardinals' dugout, allowing Espinosa to score, too.
"I'm just trying to make a play," Molina said. "I threw it away. My fault."
Desmond shouted and punched the air, a 1-1 game suddenly 3-1.
"Desi made the decision instantly to get toward the plate," Nationals manager Matt Williams said. "He read it correctly."
As for the surprise factor, Williams said: "You never see a ball get away from Yadi. Ever."
On Sept. 24, in his ninth career start, Wacha no-hit the Nationals until there were two outs in the ninth inning, when Ryan Zimmerman's infield single ended the bid.
This time, Washington had three hits by the third, punctuated by Anthony Rendon's solo shot with two outs in the third. Rendon drove the first pitch of the at-bat, a 74 mph curveball, into the visitor's bullpen beyond left field for his third homer.
The Cardinals evened things in the fourth, when Allen Craig doubled off the wall in right, Molina singled, and Mark Ellis drove in a run with a blooper that right fielder Jayson Werth awkwardly attempted to reach but didn't. It was ruled a single.
Tyler Clippard came on for the eighth and needed 26 pitches just to get one out, on Jhonny Peralta's comebacker, after pinch hitter Jon Jay doubled and Carpenter walked. With runners on second and third, and No. 3-4 batters Matt Holliday and Craig coming up, Clippard was replaced by Drew Storen.
"You've got two great hitters right there, guys in scoring position," Storen said.
He was the closer back in October 2012, when he let the Cardinals erase a 7-5 deficit with two outs in the top of the ninth of Game 5 to win 9-7.
This time, Storen got Holliday on a popup in foul territory, then Craig on a groundout, before Rafael Soriano shook off a comebacker that hit his leg and a walk in the ninth to earn his fourth save.
"A good win. They're a tremendous team. They've gotten the best of us in the past," Rendon said. "But we're trying to change that."
NOTES: On Saturday, Cardinals RHP Lance Lynn (3-0, 4.00) will face Nationals RHP Jordan Zimmermann (1-0, 5.27 ERA). ... Molina has hit in 10 straight games.
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