‘‘I was looking for a good fastball to hit. He gave it to me,’’ Kozma said. ‘‘You can’t write this stuff up. It just happens.’’
Cardinals closer Jason Motte, who got the win with two innings of one-run relief, said: ‘‘Maybe we’re just stubborn. These guys, they don’t give away at-bats, that’s the thing.’’
When Motte got Ryan Zimmerman to pop out, the Cardinals streamed from the visiting dugout for hugs and high-fives. This, though, was nothing new to them.
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 has them four wins away from another World Series appearance.
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. A big third inning highlighted by the 19-year-old Harper’s homer made it 6-0.
The Cardinals were not about to go gently into the night. They 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.
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, the four-run ninth against Storen — who had elbow surgery in April, returned to the team in July and reclaimed his closer role with a near-perfect September — completed the reversal.
‘‘We've had a great year overcoming a lot of hardship,’’ Johnson said, ‘‘and to not go after them at the end was not fun to watch.’’
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 for the Nationals got moved down the hallway to the Cardinals’ side.
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. 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. Zimmerman completed the crescendo with his two-run homer.
In 11 previous postseason appearances — mainly as a reliever — Wainwright never had allowed more than one run, much less three in a single inning. Got worse in the third, and his evening was over after 2 1-3 innings.
His season, however, will continue. He plays for the can't-quit Cardinals, after all.
‘‘It was the lowest I ever felt in my career and then all of a sudden it’s one of the highest moments in my career,’’ Wainwright said. ‘‘That’s the great thing about playing on an amazing team. You have someone go out and have a terrible performance like I did, and the rest of the team went out there and fought hard and didn’t give up.’’
NOTES: St. Louis is in the NLCS for the seventh time since the start of the 2000 season. ... 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.
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