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St. Louis at Washington

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St. Louis (3-2) «0001201149110
Washington (2-3)3030000107110

Cards rally for four-run ninth inning to overcome Nats, advance to NLCS

CBSSports.com wire reports
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WASHINGTON -- Doesn't matter how bad things look for the St. Louis Cardinals. Trailing by a bunch, down to their last strike, they simply stay calm and do what it takes to win.

Erasing an early six-run hole in Game 5 slowly but surely, the defending World Series champion Cardinals got a tying two-out, two-run single from Daniel Descalso and a go-ahead two-run single from Pete Kozma in the ninth inning and came all the way back to beat the Washington Nationals 9-7 Friday night and win their NL division series.

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It was the largest comeback ever in a winner-take-all postseason game, according to STATS LLC. No other club in this sort of ultimate pressure situation had come back from more than four down.

"We knew we had a lot of game left after they scored six. Nobody went up there trying to hit a six-run homer," said Descalso, whose solo shot in the eighth made it 6-5. "We needed to scratch and claw and get ourselves back in the game."

They did, barely: Descalso's saving single ticked off the glove of diving shortstop Ian Desmond.

First-year manager Mike Matheny and the wild-card Cardinals, the last team to clinch a playoff spot this year, will open the NL championship series at San Francisco on Sunday.

The Nationals, meanwhile, led the majors with 98 wins in 2012 but lost without All-Star ace Stephen Strasburg. The team said he'd thrown enough this year and didn't put him on the playoff roster.

Down 7-5 with two outs in the ninth against Nationals closer Drew Storen, the Cardinals twice were a strike away from losing. But Storen walked both of those batters, Yadier Molina and David Freese, setting the stage for the unheralded Descalso and Kozma -- Nationals manager Davey Johnson even called the rookie "Cosmos" before Game 4 -- to come through.

When Cardinals closer Jason Motte got Ryan Zimmerman to pop out to second base a half-hour past midnight, the Cardinals streamed from the visiting dugout for a rather muted celebration, all in all.

This was nothing new to them.

Over the past two years, St. Louis is 6-0 when facing elimination, including victories in Games 6 and 7 of the 2011 World Series against Texas.

"It's just the kind of people they are. They believe in themselves. They believe in each other," Matheny said. "It's been this style of team all season long. They just don't quit, and I think that just says a lot about their character."

Down to their last strike in the Fall Classic a year ago, trailing by the exact same 7-5 score in the ninth inning, the Cardinals rallied in Game 6 and then took the championship in what turned out to be the final year with the club for slugging first baseman Albert Pujols and then-manager Tony La Russa. Now Matheny, who got the Cardinals into the playoffs as the second NL wild-card team on the next-to-last day of the regular season, has them back in the NLCS.

And to think: Washington, which won the NL East and led the majors with 98 wins, got off to as good a start as possible Friday.

Seven pitches, three runs. Just like that, Jayson Werth's double, Bryce Harper's triple and Zimmerman's homer got the hosts jump-started in their first Game 5.

That opening outburst, plus a big third inning highlighted by the 19-year-old Harper's homer, made it 6-0.

St. Louis was not about to go gently into the night, though.

"Would have been easy for us to go down 6-0 and sort of roll over and let the crowd take us out of it," Descalso said, "and just let them have the game."

The Cardinals chipped away, chipped away. One run off 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez in the fourth, a pair in the fifth, another in the seventh off Edwin Jackson -- the Game 3 starter and loser, and an all-around surprising choice for midgame relief.

Suddenly, it was 6-4. Then came Descalso's homer 5 in the eighth. After Kurt Suzuki drove in a run for Washington get the lead back up to 7-5, a four-run ninth against Storen -- who had elbow surgery in April, returned to the team in July and reclaimed his closer role in September -- completed the reversal.

"We've had a great year overcoming a lot of hardship," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said, "and to not go after them at the end was not fun to watch."

Carlos Beltran began the ninth with a double. Two quick outs later, though, Washington was oh-so-close to a victory. But Storen couldn't get the last strike on Molina. Same thing with Freese. Then Descalso's shot up the middle went off Desmond's glove. The Nationals were inches, perhaps, from advancing. The Cardinals that near to their season finished.

Instead, they carry on, like they always seem to at this time of year. St. Louis is in the NLCS for the seventh time since the start of the 2000 season.

In Game 6 of last year's World Series, the Cardinals twice were one strike from losing, before Freese's two-run triple in the ninth, then Lance Berkman's tying RBI single in the 10th. Freese's homer won it in the 11th, and St. Louis went on to a 6-2 victory in Game 7.

Here they were, doing it again.

All in front of a Nationals Park-record crowd of 45,966 witnessing the first postseason series in the nation's capital in 79 years. So seemingly close to a significant triumph, the Nationals -- and their fans -- left disappointed. Not long after the final out, a few dozen Cardinals fans gathered in the rows right behind the visiting dugout to chant, "Let's go, Cards! Let's go, Cards!"

Hours earlier, the red-dressed D.C. spectators began the night with chants of "Let's go, Nats!" right after the national anthem, then filled the raw October air with roars as run after run scored for the home team. But over the final innings, those Washington baseball fans wound up looking on with hearts in throats.

At the outset, highlights of leadoff hitter Werth's epic, 13-pitch at-bat from about 25 ½ hours before were shown on the video board as he began the bottom of the first. On Thursday night, he ended Game 4 with a homer in the bottom of the ninth that gave Washington a 2-1 victory.

Picking up right where he left off, Werth doubled to the left-field corner off Adam Wainwright, and Harper followed with an RBI triple off the wall in left-center. Harper won't turn 20 until Tuesday; no other teen had a postseason three-bagger, according to STATS.

Harper was 1 for 18 for a .056 batting average -- yes, .056 -- with six strikeouts and zero RBI in the NLDS until that moment. After sliding in well ahead of the throw to third, he popped up and pointed at Werth, who kept clapping and clapping after crossing home plate.

A foot or two higher, and that hit by Harper would have been a homer. No matter: Zimmerman completed the crescendo by driving an 86 mph cutter into the first row beyond the wall in right-center.

In 11 previous postseason appearances -- mainly as a reliever -- Wainwright never had allowed more than one run in any entire outing, much less three in a single inning.

Got worse in the third. Harper led off with a homer, to the same area of right-center as Zimmerman's but a few rows deeper. Zimmerman doubled, and Michael Morse turned on the next pitch for a two-run homer to left that made it 6-0.

That was it for Wainwright, whose evening was over after 53 pitches across 2 1/3 innings.

His season, however, will continue. He plays for the can't-quit Cardinals, after all.

Notes

  • Beltran went 3 for 3 plus two walks.
  • The 9-7 final score might be familiar to longtime Washington baseball historians. In the last all-or-nothing game for a Washington baseball team, the Senators lost Game 7 of the 1925 World Series at Pittsburgh by the exact same score when Walter Johnson couldn't hold a 6-3 lead.
  • This year is the first time that all four division series went the distance, giving baseball fans 20 of a possible 20 games to follow.
  • LHP Madison Bumgarner will pitch Game 1 for the Giants, who came back after dropping the first two games of their NLDS against the Reds and won Game 5 of that series on Thursday.
 
Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
 
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Daniel Descalso homers in the eighth inning and delivers a two-run single in the ninth to help lead the Cards into the NLCS. (US Presswire)
Daniel Descalso homers in the eighth inning and delivers a two-run single in the ninth to help lead the Cards into the NLCS. (US Presswire)

Players of the Game
St. Louis

D. Descalso
AB 5
R 3
H 3
HR 1
RBI 3
Washington

B. Harper
AB 5
R 2
H 2
HR 1
RBI 2
 
St. Louis Cardinals
HittersABRHRBIBBSOLOBAVG
Jon Jay, CF4100113 .200
Carlos Beltran, RF3230200 .444
Matt Holliday, LF5012015 .190
    Tony Cruz, C0000000 .000
Allen Craig, 1B4001124 .316
Yadier Molina, C3000204 .118
    Adron Chambers, PR-LF0100000 .000
David Freese, 3B4120123 .421
Daniel Descalso, 2B5333012 .316
Pete Kozma, SS5022001 .250
Adam Wainwright, P1000010 .000
    Joe Kelly, P0000000 .000
   a- Shane Robinson, PH0100100 .000
    Trevor Rosenthal, P0000000 .000
   b- Skip Schumaker, PH1000001 .000
    Edward Mujica, P0000000 .000
    Mitchell Boggs, P0000000 .000
   c- Matt Carpenter, PH1000010 .000
    Jason Motte, P1000011 .000
Totals379118810  
a-walked for Kelly in the 5th
b-grounded out for Rosenthal in the 6th
c-struck out for Boggs in the 8th
Batting
2B - Carlos Beltran 2 (3, Jackson, Storen), Matt Holliday (1, G. Gonzalez), Daniel Descalso (1, G. Gonzalez)
HR - Daniel Descalso (2, Clippard)
RBI - Matt Holliday 2 (4), Allen Craig (3), Daniel Descalso 3 (6), Pete Kozma 2 (5)
2-OUT RBI - Allen Craig (3), Daniel Descalso 2 (2), Pete Kozma 2 (2)
SB - Daniel Descalso (1, 2nd base off Storen/Suzuki)
CS - David Freese (1, 2nd base by G. Gonzalez/Suzuki)
Team LOB - 9
St. Louis Cardinals
PitchersIPHRERBBSOHRERA
Adam Wainwright 2.1766053 7.88
Joe Kelly 1.2000020 0.00
Trevor Rosenthal 1000020 0.00
Edward Mujica 1100110 3.00
Mitchell Boggs 1000000 0.00
Jason Motte (W,1-0) 2311010 3.00
Pitches-Strikes - Adam Wainwright 53-33, Joe Kelly 29-17, Trevor Rosenthal 16-12, Edward Mujica 21-12, Mitchell Boggs 17-10, Jason Motte 33-26
Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Joe Kelly 2-1, Edward Mujica 2-0, Mitchell Boggs 2-1, Jason Motte 1-4
Batters Faced - Adam Wainwright 14, Joe Kelly 5, Trevor Rosenthal 3, Edward Mujica 5, Mitchell Boggs 3, Jason Motte 9
Washington Nationals
HittersABRHRBIBBSOLOBAVG
Jayson Werth, RF5110001 .238
Bryce Harper, CF5222020 .130
Ryan Zimmerman, 3B5222010 .381
Adam LaRoche, 1B4110021 .176
Michael Morse, LF4122010 .263
Ian Desmond, SS4000021 .368
Danny Espinosa, 2B3000112 .067
Kurt Suzuki, C4031000 .235
Gio Gonzalez, P2000011 .000
    Craig Stammen, P0000000 .000
    Sean Burnett, P0000000 .000
   a- Roger Bernadina, PH1000012 .000
    Edwin Jackson, P0000000 .000
    Tyler Clippard, P0000000 .000
   b- Chad Tracy, PH1000002 .000
    Drew Storen, P0000000 .000
Totals387117111  
a-struck out for Burnett in the 6th
b-popped out for Clippard in the 8th
Batting
2B - Jayson Werth (1, Wainwright), Ryan Zimmerman (1, Wainwright)
3B - Bryce Harper (1, Wainwright)
HR - Bryce Harper (1, Wainwright), Ryan Zimmerman (2, Wainwright), Michael Morse (1, Wainwright)
RBI - Bryce Harper 2 (2), Ryan Zimmerman 2 (4), Michael Morse 2 (2), Kurt Suzuki (2)
2-OUT RBI - Kurt Suzuki (2)
Team LOB - 5
Washington Nationals
PitchersIPHRERBBSOHRERA
Gio Gonzalez 5533450 4.50
Craig Stammen (H,1) 0.2100000 9.00
Sean Burnett (H,1) 0.1000000 27.00
Edwin Jackson (H,1) 1111220 7.50
Tyler Clippard (H,2) 1111011 3.00
Drew Storen (BS,1; L,1-1) 1344220 9.00
WP - Gio Gonzalez (2)
Pitches-Strikes - Gio Gonzalez 99-56, Craig Stammen 12-8, Sean Burnett 4-2, Edwin Jackson 23-12, Tyler Clippard 23-15, Drew Storen 33-18
Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Gio Gonzalez 3-6, Craig Stammen 1-1, Sean Burnett 1-0, Edwin Jackson 1-0, Drew Storen 1-0
Batters Faced - Gio Gonzalez 23, Craig Stammen 3, Sean Burnett 1, Edwin Jackson 6, Tyler Clippard 4, Drew Storen 8
Game Information
Attendance - 45966
Game Time - 3:49
Temperature - 54
Umpires - Home - Alfonso Marquez, First Base - Ed Hickox, Second Base - Paul Emmel, Third Base - Marvin Hudson