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Nationals Take On Cardinals As Dark Cloud Hangs Over The Park

(Sports Network) - An expected soft part of the schedule has been anything but so far for the St. Louis Cardinals, who'll be seeking to end a string of three straight losses in tonight's second test of a four-game series with the Washington Nationals.

The Cardinals have been challenged on their 10-game road trip against three non-contending teams (Pittsburgh, Washington and Houston), with the defending National League Central champions dropping their final two matchups with the bottom-feeding Pirates after opening the trek with a victory. St. Louis also came up short in Thursday's opener of this set with the NL East cellar- dwelling Nationals, dropping an 11-10 decision in 13 innings.

Ian Desmond knocked in the deciding run with an infield single in the bottom of the 13th which plated Nyjer Morgan, who was hit by a pitch from Blake Hawksworth (4-8) to lead off Washington's half of the inning and advanced to third on an Alberto Gonzalez single.

The game was extended due to a wild ninth inning in which the Cardinals scored four times to take a 10-8 lead, but the Nationals drew even in the bottom of the frame on Roger Bernadina's two-run homer off closer Ryan Franklin.

St. Louis tied the contest in the top of the ninth when Nats reliever Drew Storen hit Matt Holliday with a pitch in a bases-loaded situation. Randy Winn then greeted new pitcher Sean Burnett with a two-run single for a shortly- lived 10-8 edge.

"I don't really know what big league playoff atmosphere feels like -- I'm sure the atmosphere is a bit more hectic -- but that was a great played game by both sides," said Desmond, who finished with four hits and three RBI on the evening.

Willie Harris added a two-run single to help Washington halt a four-game losing streak.

Winn went 4-for-6 and knocked in four runs for St. Louis, which also received three RBI out of Skip Schumaker in the loss. Albert Pujols ended with two hits, one of which was the 400th home run of the star first baseman's illustrious career.

Thursday's loss dropped the Cardinals four games behind idle Cincinnati for the NL Central lead, and the team trails San Francisco by 1 1/2 games for the top spot in the league's Wild Card standings.

Jaime Garcia will attempt to get the Cardinals out of their funk, as well as duplicate a tremendous outing in his most recent start, when the impressive youngster takes the mound for the visitors tonight. The NL Rookie of the Year Award candidate further enhanced his credentials with a sensational showing against San Francisco last Sunday, yielding just three hits and zero walks to notch the first shutout and complete game of his brief big league career.

The effort improved Garcia to 11-6 in 24 starts this season and lowered his earned run average to 2.42, the sixth-lowest mark in the NL at the moment. The 24-year-old is 6-3 with a 3.41 ERA in 12 road assignments and will be taking on the Nationals for the first time tonight.

The Nationals will send out a struggling pitcher to oppose Garcia in Scott Olsen, who'll be out to halt a personal four-start slide in tonight's clash. After returning from a two-month stint on the disabled list to beat Atlanta on July 29, the left-hander has been rocked for 19 runs in 18 1/3 innings during his month-long losing streak.

Olsen was able to last six innings in his most recent start, but was still reached for four runs and nine hits and didn't get any offensive support as well in a 6-0 setback at Philadelphia on Sunday.

The 26-year-old also hasn't had much luck when facing the Cardinals in the past, having amassed a 1-4 record with a lackluster 6.10 ERA over five previous encounters with St. Louis. None of those games have occurred after the 2008 season, however.

Washington halted a six-game losing streak in this series with Thursday's triumph. St. Louis has still prevailed in 13 of the last 16 meetings between the teams and swept a two-game set from the Nationals at Busch Stadium in May.