WASHINGTON - It 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 slowly but surely, the defending World Series champions 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 beat the Washington Nationals 9-7 on Friday to win their National League Division Series in five games.
The comeback was the largest in major league history in a winner-take-all postseason game, according to STATS LLC. No other club had ever come back from more than four down in those situations.
The Cardinals’ David Freese reacts after he and Daniel Descalso scored in the ninth inning of St. Louis’ 9-7 victory over the Washington Nationals on Friday in Game 5 of the teams’ National League Division Series.
"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 drive in the eighth made the score 6-5. "We needed to scratch and claw and get ourselves back in the game."
They did, just barely: Descalso's saving single ticked off the glove of diving shortstop Ian Desmond.
The wild-card Cardinals, the last team to clinch a playoff spot this year, will visit the San Francisco Giants for the opening game of the NL championship series on Sunday.
The Nationals, whose 98 regular-season wins led the majors, were trying to win a postseason series for the first time in franchise history. The team will no doubt face questions about the decision not to put ace Stephen Strasburg on the postseason roster, saying he had thrown enough this year.
Still, the Nationals got ever so close - leading 7-5 with two outs in the ninth, they were twice a strike away from winning, but closer Drew Storen eventually walked both of those batters, Yadier Molina and David Freese.
"We've had a great year overcoming a lot of hardship," Washington manager Davey Johnson said, "and to not go after them at the end was not fun to watch."
Kurt Suzuki, a Baldwin High School graduate, had three singles, and drove in the Nationals' final run of the season in the eighth.
Over the past two years, the Cardinals are 6-0 when facing elimination, including victories in Games 6 and 7 of the 2011 World Series against the Texas Rangers.
"It's just the kind of people they are. They believe in themselves. They believe in each other," said first-year St. Louis manager Mike Matheny. "It's been this style of team all season long."
The Nationals led 3-0 seven pitches into the bottom of the first, after Jayson Werth's double, Bryce Harper's triple and Ryan Zimmerman's home run. Harper, who turns 20 on Tuesday, led off a three-run third with a homer.
Harper is the first teenager to hit a triple in a postseason game, and the second-youngest player to homer - Andruw Jones was about 19 1/2 when he had two homers for the Atlanta Braves in 1996.