ST. LOUIS — Rookies in the postseason, the Washington Nationals played like poised veterans.

The Nationals escaped a bases-loaded jam in the seventh inning, Tyler Moore blooped a two-out, two-run single in the eighth and Washington beat the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals 3-2 Sunday in an NL playoff opener.

They have just four players with postseason experience on the roster. But they have the lead.

"Not many people have probably watched too many Nationals games, but we have a great starting rotation and a great bullpen," said Ian Desmond, who singled for his third hit in the go-ahead rally. "They keep us in the ballgame and some timely hits from this kid, and the rest of the guys coming off the bench, that's really been the formula."

The Nationals, who had never come close to making the playoffs since moving from Montreal for the 2005 season, overcame a wild start by 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez. They limited the Cardinals to just three hits.

"All the credit in the world goes to the bullpen," Gonzalez said. "I've been saying it all year. The reason why we've been so successful is these guys come in and shut it down."

Rookie reliever Ryan Mattheus needed just two pitches to bail out the Nationals in the seventh with St. Louis ahead 2-1. Moore, another rookie, put them ahead soon after that, Tyler Clippard worked around an error in the eighth and Drew Storen saved it with a 1-2-3 ninth.

The NL East champion Nationals led the majors with 98 wins this season, and brought postseason baseball to Washington for the first time since 1933. The Nats go for a 2-0 series lead Monday when Jordan Zimmermann opposes Jaime Garcia.

"This team is not hanging our heads," St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright said. "We can come back and win this easily."

The Cardinals made it to the best-of-five division series by beating Atlanta in the wild-card matchup Friday. But St. Louis wasted a 10-strikeout gem by Wainwright, failing to capitalize enough on Gonzalez's career high-tying seven walks and frustrating its towel-waving fans.

Mattheus diffused a bases-loaded, none-out threat in the seventh, getting cleanup man Allen Craig to ground into a forceout at the plate and then inducing a double-play grounder from Yadier Molina. Craig led the National League with a .400 average with runners in scoring position and Molina batted .321 in those situations.

"It was a big moment," Mattheus said. "It gave us life. The guys said, `Hey, we can win this ballgame.'"

A standing room crowd of 47,078, among the largest at 7-year-old Busch Stadium, bundled up for a game that began in 54-degree chill and featured kaleidoscope late-afternoon shadows that bedeviled hitters for several innings.

"It was pretty bad, but you have to make adjustments and that's what I did," Molina said. "But what are you going to do? Quit? No."

Third-place hitter Matt Holliday chimed in his complaints about facing Gonzalez: "He's hard to hit when you can see well and even harder when you can't."

Rookie shortstop Pete Kozma misplayed Michael Morse's grounder for an error to open the eighth and set up the Nationals' go-ahead rally. Desmond followed with a single off Mitchell Boggs, putting runners at the corners.

Danny Espinsoa sacrificed, leaving runners at second and third, and Kurt Suzuki struck out. In a series of moves, the Nationals sent up Chad Tracy to pinch hit, the Cardinals switched to lefty Marc Rzepczynski and Washington subbed in Moore, who had two of their three pinch homers this season.

Rzepczynski pretty much hit his location but Moore poked it to right field and both runners scored easily.

"I was just trying to calm myself down and try to make some things happen and not strike out up there," Moore said. "I wanted to at least put something into play."

Nationals manager Davey Johnson doesn't usually play small ball but opted for the bunt because Espinosa had been having a tough game.

"I'm kind of from the Earl Weaver school, just keep swinging," Johnson said. "Don't like to steal that much, either. I don't like to give up outs."

Wainwright became the first Cardinals pitcher to reach double digits in strikeouts since Bob Gibson also fanned 10 to beat the Tigers in Game 4 of the 1968 World Series.

Wainwright was a 14-game winner coming off reconstructive elbow surgery that sidelined him all of 2011, with 10 of the wins coming at home. He's been a postseason ace with a microscopic 0.77 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 23 1-3 innings.

He fanned Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman twice each and seventh-place hitter Espinosa all three times.

"My fastball command kind of left me at the end," Wainwright said. "For the most part I felt like I went out there and competed my tail off. Gave it everything I had."

Gonzalez allowed just one hit in five innings, on David Freese's full-count bouncer between third and short to start the fourth. But he had trouble finding catcher Kurt Suzuki's glove and keeping warm.

"I kept blowing in my hand, kept looking to do whatever I could to throw a strike," Gonzalez said.

The second inning was Gonzalez' shakiest when he allowed the Cardinals to score twice and take the lead without a hit. Gonzalez walked four of the first five hitters, putting St. Louis in position to score one run on a wild pitch and a second on Jon Jay's bases-loaded sacrifice fly.

"The whole time I was just saying minimize the damage because things were spinning out of control. I just wanted to match everything Wainwright did. I was trying to keep up with him."

Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth robbed Daniel Descalso of a two-run homer off with a leaping catch to keep it at 2-1 in the sixth. Descalso had a fielding gem of his own in the seventh, ranging far to his left to glove Harper's grounder and then throwing him out by a few steps.

NOTES: The Cardinals went 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position. ... Garcia was 4-2 with a 2.82 ERA in nine starts at home. The lefty has a 2.48 career ERA at Busch. ... Gonzalez also walked seven on June 11, 2011, when he was with Oakland against the White Sox. ... Kozma committed one error in 26 games after taking over as the regular SS in September for injured Rafael Furcal.

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  • Tyler Moore

    Washington Nationals' Tyler Moore watches his two-RBI single during the eighth inning in Game 1 of baseball's National League division series against the St. Louis Cardinals, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Daniel Descalso, Kurt Suzuki

    St. Louis Cardinals' Daniel Descalso, right, scores on a sacrifice fly by Jon Jay as Washington Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki, left, stands by during the second inning in Game 1 of baseball's National League division series, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Gio Gonzalez

    Washington Nationals starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez gets a pat on the head by catcher Kurt Suzuki after walking a batter during the second inning of Game 1 of the National League division baseball series against the St. Louis Cardinals, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina, Gio Gonzalez

    St. Louis Cardinals' Yadier Molina, center is congratulated by Adam Wainwright after scoring on a wild pitch by Washington Nationals starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez, top right, during the second inning in Game 1 of baseball's National League division series, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam)

  • Adam LaRoche

    Washington Nationals' Adam LaRoche, right, runs past St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina as he scores on a single by Kurt Suzuki during the second inning of Game 1 of the National League division baseball series, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Ian Desmond, Daniel Descalso

    Washington Nationals' Ian Desmond, right, is out at second as St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Daniel Descalso fails to turn the double play during the fourth inning in Game 1 of baseball's National League division series Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, in St. Louis. The Nationals' Kurt Suzuki was safe at first. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Daniel Descalso

    St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Daniel Descalso (33) throws to first but cannot complete the double play after forcing Washington Nationals' Ian Desmond out at second during the fourth inning of Game 1 of the National League division baseball series, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Adam Wainwright

    St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright throws during the fifth inning in Game 1 of baseball's National League division series against the Washington Nationals, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Adam Wainwright

    St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright walks back to the mound after striking out Washington Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman during the fifth inning in Game 1 of baseball's National League division series, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Lance Lynn

    St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Lance Lynn celebrates after striking out Washington Nationals' Jayson Werth to end the top of the sixth inning in Game 1 of baseball's National League division series, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Kurt Suzuki, Gio Gonzalez

    Washington Nationals starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez, right, stands on the mound with catcher Kurt Suzuki after walking St. Louis Cardinals' Carlos Beltran during the fifth inning in Game 1 of baseball's National League division series, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Ryan Zimmerman, Yadier Molina

    St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, bottom, throws the ball back as Washington Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman, top, walks back to the dugout after striking out during the fifth inning in Game 1 of baseball's National League division series, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam)

  • Adam Wainwright, Mike Matheny

    St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, right, talks with starting pitcher Adam Wainwright after pulling Wainwright during the sixth inning in Game 1 of baseball's National League division series against the Washington Nationals, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Matt Holliday

    St. Louis Cardinals' Matt Holliday grimaces after being hit by a pitch during the seventh inning in Game 1 of baseball's National League division series against the Washington Nationals, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Danny Espinosa , Allen Craig

    St. Louis Cardinals' Allen Craig (21) is out at second as Washington Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa turns the double play to end the seventh inning in Game 1 of baseball's National League division series, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, in St. Louis. Yadier Molina was out at first. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Jayson Werth

    Washington Nationals' Jayson Werth tosses his bat after striking out to end the sixth inning of Game 1 of the National League division baseball series against the St. Louis Cardinals, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Ian Desmond, Michael Morse

    Washington Nationals' Ian Desmond, left, and Michael Morse celebrate after scoring on a two-RBI single by Tyler Moore during the eighth inning in Game 1 of baseball's National League division series against the St. Louis Cardinals, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Matt Carpenter, Paul Emmel

    St. Louis Cardinals' Matt Carpenter reacts after being called out on strikes by home plate umpire Paul Emmel, left, to end the eighth inning in Game 1 of baseball's National League division series against the Washington Nationals, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Jayson Werth, Ian Desmond, Michael Morse

    Washington Nationals' Ian Desmond celebrates with Jayson Werth (28) and Michael Morse (38) after Morse and Desmond scored on a two-RBI single by Tyler Moore during the eighth inning in Game 1 of baseball's National League division series against the St. Louis Cardinals, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam)

  • Michael Morse

    Washington Nationals' Michael Morse (38) celebrates after scoring on a two-RBI single by Tyler Moore during the eighth inning of Game 1 of the National League division baseball series against the St. Louis Cardinals, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Michael Morse

    Washington Nationals' Michael Morse motions from the dugout to Tyler Moore after Moore hit a single that scored Morse during the eighth inning of Game 1 of the National League division baseball series against the St. Louis Cardinals, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Tyler Moore

    Washington Nationals' Tyler Moore celebrates in the dugout after hitting a two-RBI single during the eighth inning of Game 1 of the National League division baseball series against the St. Louis Cardinals, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Division Series - Washington Nationals v St Louis Cardinals - Game One

    ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 07: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals stretches before batting early in the game against the St Louis Cardinals during Game One of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium on October 7, 2012 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

  • Division Series - Washington Nationals v St Louis Cardinals - Game One

    ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 07: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals looks on before batting early in the game against the St Louis Cardinals during Game One of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium on October 7, 2012 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

  • Division Series - Washington Nationals v St Louis Cardinals - Game One

    ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 07: Yadier Molina #4 celebrates with Adam Wainwright #50 of the St Louis Cardinals after scoring on a wild pitch in the second inning against the Washington Nationals during Game One of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium on October 7, 2012 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

  • Division Series - Washington Nationals v St Louis Cardinals - Game One

    ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 07: Gio Gonzalez #47 of the Washington Nationals pitches in first inning against the St Louis Cardinals during Game One of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium on October 7, 2012 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

  • Division Series - Washington Nationals v St Louis Cardinals - Game One

    ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 07: Adam Wainwright #50 of the St Louis Cardinals pitches in the first inning against the Washington Nationals during Game One of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium on October 7, 2012 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

  • Division Series - Washington Nationals v St Louis Cardinals - Game One

    ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 07: Adam Wainwright #50 of the St Louis Cardinals pitches in the first inning against the Washington Nationals during Game One of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium on October 7, 2012 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

  • Division Series - Washington Nationals v St Louis Cardinals - Game One

    ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 07: Gio Gonzalez #47 of the Washington Nationals pitches in first inning against the St Louis Cardinals during Game One of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium on October 7, 2012 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

  • Division Series - Washington Nationals v St Louis Cardinals - Game One

    ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 07: Kurt Suzuki #24, Gio Gonzalez #47 and Adam LaRoche #25 of the Washington Nationals speak on the mound early in the game against the St Louis Cardinals during Game One of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium on October 7, 2012 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

  • Division Series - Washington Nationals v St Louis Cardinals - Game One

    ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 07: Gio Gonzalez #47 of the Washington Nationals pitches against the St Louis Cardinals during Game One of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium on October 7, 2012 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

  • Players for the Washington Nationals stretch before Game 1 of the National League division baseball series against the St. Louis Cardinals Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Adam Wainwright

    St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright point after striking out Washington Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman to end the top of the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's National League division series, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Adam Wainwright

    St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright throws during the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's National League division series against the Washington Nationals, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Gio Gonzalez

    Washington Nationals starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez throws during the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's National League division series against the St. Louis Cardinals, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Gio Gonzalez

    Washington Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez throws during the first inning of Game 1 of the National League division baseball series against the St. Louis Cardinals, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Jayson Werth

    Washington Nationals' Jayson Werth reacts after striking out during the first inning of Game 1 of the National League division baseball series against the St. Louis Cardinals, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Adam Wainwright

    St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright throws during the first inning of Game 1 of the National League division baseball series against the Washington Nationals, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright

    St. Louis Cardinals' Yadier Molina, right, is congratulated by Adam Wainwright after scoring on a wild pitch by Washington Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez during the second inning in Game 1 of baseball's National League division series, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Kurt Suzuki, Jon Jay

    St. Louis Cardinals' Jon Jay hits a sacrifice fly to score Daniel Descalso as Washington Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki, left, watches during the second inning in Game 1 of baseball's National League division series, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Adam Wainwright

    St. Louis Cardinals' Yadier Molina (4) celebrates with Adam Wainwright after Molina scored on a wild pitch during the second inning of Game 1 of the National League division baseball series against the Washington Nationals, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Gio Gonzalez

    Washington Nationals starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez blows on his hand during the second inning in Game 1 of baseball's National League division series against the St. Louis Cardinals, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Division Series - Washington Nationals v St Louis Cardinals - Game One

    ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 07: Jayson Werth of the Washington Nationals strikes out to end the top of the sixth inning against the St Louis Cardinals during Game One of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium on October 7, 2012 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

  • Division Series - Washington Nationals v St Louis Cardinals - Game One

    ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 07: Gio Gonzalez #47 of the Washington Nationals pitches in the fifth inning against the St Louis Cardinals during Game One of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium on October 7, 2012 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

  • Division Series - Washington Nationals v St Louis Cardinals - Game One

    ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 07: Ian Desmond #20 of the Washington Nationals slides into second to break up a double play as Daniel Descalso #33 of the St Louis Cardinals throws in the fourth inning during Game One of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium on October 7, 2012 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

  • Division Series - Washington Nationals v St Louis Cardinals - Game One

    ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 07: Ian Desmond #20 of the Washington Nationals slides into second to break up a double play as Daniel Descalso #33 of the St Louis Cardinals throws in the fourth inning during Game One of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium on October 7, 2012 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

  • Division Series - Washington Nationals v St Louis Cardinals - Game One

    ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 07: Adam Wainwright #50 of the St Louis Cardinals pitches against the Washington Nationals during Game One of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium on October 7, 2012 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

  • Division Series - Washington Nationals v St Louis Cardinals - Game One

    ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 07: Gio Gonzalez #47 of the Washington Nationals pitches against the St Louis Cardinals during Game One of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium on October 7, 2012 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

  • Division Series - Washington Nationals v St Louis Cardinals - Game One

    ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 07: A general view of the crowd during Game One of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and the St Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on October 7, 2012 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

  • Division Series - Washington Nationals v St Louis Cardinals - Game One

    ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 07: Ian Desmond #20 of the Washington Nationals throws to second for a double play in the fourth inning against the St Louis Cardinals during Game One of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium on October 7, 2012 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

  • Division Series - Washington Nationals v St Louis Cardinals - Game One

    ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 07: Michael Morse #38, Jayson Werth #28 and Ian Desmond #20 of the Washington Nationals celebrate after Morse and Desmond score the tying and go ahead runs in the eighth inning against the St Louis Cardinals during Game One of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium on October 7, 2012 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)