WASHINGTON (AP) — Washington's Ian Desmond took a substantial lead off third base in the seventh inning of a tie game, wondering whether St. Louis pitcher Michael Wacha might leave a changeup in the dirt.
"I was just kind of anticipating," Desmond explained later.
Sure enough, Wacha threw a wild pitch that bounced away from catcher Yadier Molina, who compounded the problem with a throwing error as Desmond charged home, leading to a second unearned run on the play. That was enough to propel Gio Gonzalez and the Nationals to a 3-1 victory Friday night, ending their eight-game losing streak against the Cardinals.
"I saw it bounce off a little bit. I said, 'We've got to take a chance here,'" Desmond said. "And fortunately for us, it worked out."
Said Nationals manager Matt Williams: "You never see a ball get away from Yadi. Ever."
That's because Molina has won six consecutive NL Gold Glove awards. But his miscue fit, somehow, with this series so far. A night after the Nationals made three errors — they initially were charged with four, but one was changed to a hit Friday — in an 8-0 loss, 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.
"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 to his catcher's right.
"Just spiked a changeup," Wacha said.
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," Williams said. "He read it correctly."
Wacha (2-1) gave up five hits and one earned run. 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, when Anthony Rendon's solo shot came off a first-pitch 74 mph curveball.
Gonzalez (3-1) allowed one run and four hits in seven innings, retiring the last 11 batters he faced. He had seven strikeouts and one walk as Washington beat St. Louis for the first time since Game 4 of the teams' 2012 NL division series.
"It was one of those games that we needed. We needed to bounce back," Gonzalez said about Friday. "We needed something like this. It put us back together. Now we go from here, one game at a time."
Nationals reliever Tyler Clippard came on for the eighth and needed 26 pitches just to get one out. With runners on second and third, and No. 3-4 batters Matt Holliday and Allen 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.
But 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: Nationals CF Denard Span (7-day DL, concussion) is expected to be in Washington for Saturday's game. ... In the third game of the four-game series, Nationals RHP Jordan Zimmermann (1-0, 5.27 ERA) will start against Cardinals RHP Lance Lynn (3-0, 4.00).
Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich