Updated at 10:15 p.m.
ST. LOUIS -- He's been their most consistent pitcher all season, a no-nonsense right-hander who just wants to be handed the ball every five days and give his team a chance to win.
Jordan Zimmermann insisted he wouldn't be nervous to make the first postseason start of his career. And truth be told, there weren't really any signs this afternoon that the young hurler was nervous for Game 2 of the National League Division Series.
Zimmermann's biggest obstacle, as it turned out, wasn't October nerves but a Cardinals lineup that carves him up and feasts on whatever scraps are left. With another bludgeoning of the right-hander, St. Louis stormed out to an early lead and never let up to win this game 12-4 and tie this series at one game apiece.
There was no dramatic rally by the Nationals this time, only a lopsided loss that quickly erased memories of Sunday's 3-2 thriller and perhaps put the onus back on Washington to right its ship when the series reconvenes on South Capitol Street Wednesday afternoon.
The Nationals still hold the upper hand, needing now to simply win two of three home games. But they'll need a far better performance from starter Edwin Jackson in Game 3 than they got from Zimmermann in Game 2.
"I wanted to go out there and go deep into the game and try to get out of here with two wins," Zimmermann said. "I didn't do my part. I feel like if the starter doesn't go out and do their part, it kind of snowballs with the relievers sometimes, and that's kind of what happened today."
If there was one member of the Nationals rotation who seemed a sure bet to pitch deep into a postseason game, it was Zimmermann. The right-hander failed to complete five innings only once in 32 starts this season and had failed to reach the fourth inning only twice before in 81 career big-league starts.
Both of those three-inning starts came in September 2010, Zimmermann's first month back from Tommy John surgery, when he was on a strict pitch count.
No such restrictions existed today when Zimmermann toed the rubber, the Nationals hoping to get a big-time performance from one of their best young pitchers. Instead, they got one of his worst clunkers at this level.
"That's some of the youth in the pitching staff," manager Davey Johnson said. "He didn't really make a lot of adjustments out there."
This wasn't the first time Zimmermann struggled against St. Louis. In six career starts against the Redbirds, he's now 0-3 with a 9.73 ERA, having allowed 45 hits in only 28 23 innings.
"I just haven't been making my pitches against these guys," he said.
After a quick, 1-2-3 first inning, Zimmermann served up hits to the first four batters he faced in the second. By the time the inning mercifully came to an end, the Cardinals had scored four runs and rendered Zimmermann's earlier RBI single moot.
Needing a bounce-back inning in the third, the right-hander faltered again, serving up a towering homer down the left-field line to Allen Craig and needing a standout play from Ryan Zimmerman at third base to end the inning.
Zimmermann's issue didn't resemble rotation mate Gio Gonzalez's from Game 1. Gonzalez couldn't find the plate at all; Zimmermann might have been finding too much of it. Forty of his 63 pitches were for strikes, and he never walked a batter during his three innings of work. St. Louis' lineup simply put the barrel to the ball with great frequency.
"I just didn't make any pitches," he said. "When you're off a little bit and you're missing some spots and falling behind and then you have to come across the middle, it's going to be a long day."
His team down 5-1 and his starter clearly suffering through an off-day, Johnson decided not to mess around anymore and turned to his bullpen in the bottom of the fourth. Not that the early hook made much of a difference.
Craig Stammen, who looked shaky in his Game 1 relief appearance, again struggled, serving up a leadoff homer to Daniel Descalso and failing to get out of the inning altogether. Michael Gonzalez later served up a 441-foot bomb to Carlos Beltran, adding to the deficit.
Johnson, though, wasn't the only manager to break out a fast hook in this game. His counterpart made the move even earlier, yanking an ineffective Jaime Garcia after only two innings and asking his bullpen to record 21 outs on the second day of the postseason.
Manager Mike Matheny later revealed Garcia was having an issue with the same left shoulder injury that plagued him earlier this season. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported the Cardinals will remove the lefty from their postseason roster and add another pitcher for the rest of the series.
"It was obviously a sense of urgency, but Jaime's arm wasn't feeling right at the time," Matheny said. "So that was the deciding factor."
In the end, Matheny's strategy looked like sheer genius. Lance Lynn churned out three innings to bridge the gap, though the big right-hander was tagged for back-to-back homers by Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche in the top of the fifth. Fellow righties Joe Kelly, Edward Mujica and Mitchell Boggs then tossed an inning apiece to get the game in the hands of closer Jason Motte.
Not that the Cardinals needed Motte in the end. Another four-run outburst in the bottom of the eighth off Sean Burnett left this game well in hand and required no closer, sending the Nationals back home with the series now tied up.
"That was our goal," second baseman Danny Espinosa said. "We wanted to get one win out here. That's what we came in trying to do, and we got it last night."