And to think: Washington, which won the NL East, 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.
‘‘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 off Tyler Clippard in the eighth. After Kurt Suzuki drove in a run for Washington to 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.’’
Beltran began the ninth with a double. Two quick outs later, the Cardinals were a strike away from going home. But Storen couldn’t get the last one past Molina. Same thing with Freese. Then came Descalso’s shot, sneaking past Desmond. 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, the Rangers never got to pop their champagne corks, and St. Louis went on to a 6-2 victory in Game 7.
Here they were, doing it again. The alcoholic beverages waiting on ice for the Nationals wound up getting moved down the hallway to the Cardinals.
All while a Nationals Park-record crowd of 45,966 witnessed 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 25½ 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 RBIs in the NLDS until that moment. 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.
‘‘We just gave ourselves a chance to come back and be within striking distance,’’ Descalso said. ‘‘And the ninth inning was pretty remarkable.’’
Actually, this is what the Cardinals do.
They turn losses into wins, and then they steal the other guys’ bubbly.Continued...