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Cards stun Nats with huge comeback, 9-7

WASHINGTON (AP) - 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.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

Down to their last strike in the Fall Classic a year ago, trailing by the exact same 7-5 score, 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. 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. Descalso's homer made it 6-5 in the eighth. And a four-run ninth completed the reversal.

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.

The Nationals went down without All-Star ace Stephen Strasburg. The team said he'd thrown enough this year and didn't put him on the playoff roster.

Copyright 2017 by STATS LLC and Associated Press.
Any commercial use or distribution without the express written
consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited.

  
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