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Cardinals stun Nats, move on to NLCS

The Nationals were an out away from going to the NLCS. Welp.

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Cardinals fans ready for anything after win

The St. Louis Cardinals pulled off the comeback of comebacks Friday night they went down 6-0 to the Washington Nationals early and rallied to win 9-7, scoring four runs in the ninth inning to advance to the National League Championship Series.

Comebacks and improbable wins have become the defending World Series champs' story the last two seasons. It's the reason that Dan Moore of Viva El Birdos writes he's prepared for any outcome in the NLCS.

If they lose in the NLCS, I think, so be it. For the second year in a row they were brought up on charges of regular season indifference, of playing the wrong way, of underachieving relative to the pace they'd set before. For the second year in a row they've turned in, by way of a defense, a comeback so ridiculous as to act as a parody of the genre.

I'm old enough to remember when the Cardinals didn't win every single postseason series as though they were reenacting the final 20 minutes of a Mighty Ducks movie. Having gotten one more I'm sated, and ready to so-be-it a loss if it comes to that. Of course, I'm also a little greedy.

The Cardinals move on to their next challenge, where they face a San Francisco Giants team that had their own amazing comeback, winning three straight elimination games against the Cincinnati Reds. The NLCS starts Sunday at 7 p.m. CT from AT&T Park in San Francisco.


Cards beat Nats 9-7 in Game 5, set comeback record

After falling behind 6-0 in the third inning, the St. Louis Cardinals broke the postseason record for largest comeback, scoring four in the ninth to beat the Nationals and advance to the NLCS.


Cardinals rally in 9th, stun Nationals

oh god the cardinals are never going to go away they're never going to die they're never going to lose again this isn't going to end they'll just keep doing this and doing this until the end of time when there isn't baseball anymore but there is nothing but cardinals running around and around the bases forever and ever in perpetuity until the universe collapses upon itself and there is nothing but cardinals nothing but cardinals.

Before Drew Storen came in the game for the Nationals in the bottom of the ninth, announcer Dick Stockton mentioned that this was Storen's third game in as many days. When asked before the game how he'd respond to a third game of work, Storen responded with something like "WELP, I'D SURE GIVE IT EVERYTHING I'VE GOT. I MEAN, I'D KIND OF HAVE TO FIND IT IN ME SOMEWHERE, RIGHT?" Those aren't his exact words, but you get the point.

Storen entered his third consecutive game for just the second time since coming back from surgery. Things did not go well. After a Beltran double, the Nats got two outs, which pretty much ruined things for the Cardinals, right? They'd never be able to come back with two outs in an elimination game.

Ugh. Storen walked Yadier Molina. Then he walked David Freese. With two outs, Daniel Descalso hit a ball just off the glove of Ian Desmond to tie the game:

And, again with two outs, Pete Kozma singled to right for the lead:

The Cardinals have done it again. Good god.


Nats get insurance run, pull ahead 7-5

If the Nationals go on to lose, a lot of the blame will get put on the pitching. Specifically, the bullpen. And rightfully so. A team that scores six runs should win its game.

But the Nationals have been squandering chances all night, refusing to add on to their ever-shrinking lead. If they ended up losing 7-6 or something, there probably should have been some attention paid to the lack of insurance runs.

Not anymore. The Nats singled twice to lead off the bottom of the eight, and an Ian Desmond force put runners at first and third with one out. Danny Espinosa popped up, though, ending the Nationals' chance of scoring without a hit.

Kurt Suzuki, though, gave the Nats the two-out hit they needed to pull further ahead. The Nats are up 7-5, and they'll give the ball to Drew Storen, who's pitched in three straight games -- his first time since coming back from surgery.


Cardinals creep ever closer, cut Nats' lead to 6-5

Oh, man.

Gio Gonzalez turning in to Classical Era Jonathan Sanchez isn't that surprising -- his control has always been spotty, and the real surprise was that he overcame that for much of the regular season. Gonzalez gave up three runs. It happens.

But then the Nationals' bullpen got weird. Game 7s are "all hands on deck" games. Anyone can play anywhere! Edwin Jackson might look like an inconsistent starter to you, but that's because you lack imagination. He could also be an inconsistent reliever if you'll let him! Jackson came in as a reliever and gave up a run.

He got out of a jam, and that's where the weirdness was supposed to end. Tyler Clippard is usually a dynamo in the late innings. But the first batter he faced in Game 5, Daniel Descalso, pounded one down the right-field line:

That made it 6-5, Nationals. The Cardinals have scored a run in four out of the last five innings, which gives it a feel of one of those games. Drew Storen, who pitched all of 30 innings in the regular season, is up next. As Shakespeare wrote in Jurassic Park: Hold on to your butts.


Cards score once in 7th, still trail Nationals 6-4

Edwin Jackson? Sure, why not?

Yeah, just two days ago he was terrible in Game 3. But he pitched pretty well after a rough second inning. And he wound up throwing only 68 pitches. And with Davey Johnson going to his bullpen early in Game 5, he needed someone to protect the Nationals' modest lead in the seventh; just get through this frame, and he can turn things over to Tyler Clippard in the eighth and closer Drew Storen in the ninth.

Johnson's ploy worked, sort of.

Jon Jay led off the seventh, and Jackson walked him. Carlos Beltran laced a double into the right-field corner, with Jay holding at third. With the infield back, Jay scored when Matt Holliday grounded to shortstop. Jackson struck out Allen Craig on a hard slider. But, Ho! What's this? A four-pitch walk to Yadier Molina?

Why yes, it was.

But Jackson, who won a World Series with the Cardinals just a year ago, struck out David Freese with another tough slider. And now Clippard and Storen await, with the score Nationals 6, Cardinals 4 in the bottom of the seventh, a trip to the NLCS on the line.


Nats' bullpen holds Cards in 6th, still lead 6-3

Is it fair to suggest that Mike Matheny should have gone with Johnny Allstaff in Game 5?

Of course it isn't. Matheny couldn't have known that Adam Wainwright would blow up, knocked out of the game in the bottom of the third inning. But since Wainwright's exit, reliefers Joe Kelly and Trevor Rosenthal -- he of the 99-mile-an-hour fastballs -- have been perfect, retiring eight straight Nationals.

Which has given the Cardinals, at the very least, hope of getting back into this game. St. Louis scored a run in the third on Matt Holliday's double, and two more in the fifth when Gio Gonzalez's control deserted him. Davey Johnson did stick with Gonzalez longer than he might have, and his patience was rewarded when the pitcher retired Yadier Molina on a fly ball to escape a bases-loaded jam.

That was enough for Gonzalez, though, who'd thrown 99 pitches, including a ton in the fifth.

Considering the importance of this game -- it's the most important game for the franchise since the early 1980s -- now that Johnson's gone to his bullpen, he'll probably go to it a lot more. Craig Stammen came on in the sixth, gave up a leadoff hit before recording a couple of outs, then left in favor of lefty Sean Burnett when Skip Schumaker batted for the pitcher.

Burnett got his man, and so it's still Nationals 6, Cardinals 3 in the bottom of the sixth.


Cardinals make it a game, cut lead to 6-3

This happened in the other NLDS elimination game, don't forget. One team went up 6-0, and everyone started making mental plans for the NLCS. Then the other team crawled back in, slowly but surely.

In the top of the fifth, Daniel Descalso doubled to open the inning, and Pete Kozma singled him over to third. Shane Robinson walked -- you can't really challenge that guy with a six-run lead -- loading the bases with no one out. An INFIELD FLY to Jon Jay didn't do anything, but then Gonzalez uncorked a wild pitch, cutting the Nationals' lead to 6-2.

Matt Holliday followed, but he dribbled the ball back to Gonzalez, who threw home for the force. With two outs, it looked like Gonzalez could get out of the inning, but, surprise!, wild Gonzalez showed up. He couldn't throw strikes to Allen Craig, which forced in a run.

After starting Yadier Molina 2-0, Molina took an outside pitch to right for an easy fly to Jayson Werth, ending the threat.

The Nationals are probably close to making this a bullpen game, as Gonzalez is already at 99 pitches through five innings.


Cardinals on the board, still down 6-1 in the 5th

Well, at least the Cardinals are on the board and there's still plenty of time for more.

More than one run would have been nice, though. And more than one was a pretty good bet.

Carlos Beltran led off the fourth with a walk against Gio Gonzalez, who'd been so good in the first three frames. When Matt Holliday followed with a drive down the left-field line, Beltran sprinted home and Holliday wound up on second. But Gonzalez got Allen Craig on a grounder and Yadier Molina, and Gonzalez stranded Holliday on third base by striking out David Freese.

So they got just one run, and it's still 6-1 after four innings. The good news is that Joe Kelly's pitching a lot better than Adam Wainwright did. The bad news is that it's 6-1 after four innings.


Harper, Morse go deep, Nats up 6-0

Well, say. This is sorta anti-climactic.

After the Nationals scored three runs in the first three at-bats of the game, their bats went quiet. Adam Wainwright struck out the side in the first, and the Nationals went quietly in the second.

Leading off the third, though, was Bryce Harper, who had been slumping. After a triple in the first inning and this ...

... Harper had the hardest two parts of the cycle down. There has never been a cycle in the playoffs, by the way. A reason to keep watching!

The reason you wouldn't keep watching is that the Nationals broke the game open after Harper's homer. Ryan Zimmerman doubled, and after a strikeout of Adam LaRoche, Michael Morse went deep:

That chased Adam Wainwright who gave up six runs, which was his worst outing since ... the last time he faced the Nationals, on Aug. 31.

Joe Kelly is in for the Cards, and they'll need to smoke all the David Freese dust they have in their stash box if they want to get back to the World Series.


After shaky Game 1, Gonzalez looks sharp in Game 5

Wait, so Gio Gonzalez isn't going to throw a perfect game?

You might recall that Gonzalez, the Nationals' ace starting pitcher, started Game 1 of this series and issued seven walks in five innings. This was particularly notable because Gonzalez had started 32 games during the regular season, and never walked more than five batters in a game.

Gonzalez (and the Nationals) were fortunate, though; he gave up just one hit and two runs, and ultimately the Nationals beat the Cardinals 3-2. Gonzalez started that game after nine days of rest, and rustiness was the easy explanation for his bizarre lack of control.

Well, he's looking a lot better in Game 5. After a bit of a rough beginning in the first inning -- a line-out followed by a single -- Gonzalez set down three straight Cardinals. And in the second, he worked around David Freese's one-out single, with the frame ending when Freese tried the rare delayed steal and was out from here to Timbuktu.

Thanks to the Nationals' big first inning against Adam Wainwright, they're batting in the bottom of the second with a 3-0 lead.


Nationals jump on Adam Wainwright, lead 3-0


The big story for me was Gio Gonzalez. Could he throw strikes? Would he throw strikes? How's his command, his control, his comtrol? Gonzalez went to 3-0 on the first batter he faced. It was all turning to dust.

But Jon Jay lined out on a 3-1 pitch for the first out. Carlos Beltran fisted a bloop out to center, but for the most part, Gonzalez looked in control.

Adam Wainwright, on the other hand, had issues. Leadoff hitter Jayson Werth roped a double to left field, and he scored almost immediately on a long, booming triple from Bryce Harper. Was Harper the youngest player in history to hit a triple? Yes. Yes, he was. Thought they almost nailed him at third:


All Ryan Zimmerman needed to score Harper was a fly ball. He got one.

The two-run homer put the Nationals up 3-0 before their first out. Wainwright settled down after the homer and struck out the side, but the Cardinals are already in a deep hole in their quest to repeat as champions.


Mike Matheny offers nothing new in Cards lineup

It's almost time for our unprecedented fourth Division Series Game 5, and St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny has posted his lineup, with left-hander Gio Gonzalez starting for the St. Louis Cardinals. The winner of this game, of course, moves on to the NLCS against the San Francisco Giants.

1. Jon Jay* - CF
2. Carlos Beltran# - RF
3. Matt Holliday - LF
4. Allen Craig - 1B
5. Yadier Molina - C
6. David Freese - 3B
7. Daniel Descalso* - 2B
8. Pete Kozma - SS
9. Adam Wainwright - P

Just as Davey Johnson's Game 5 lineup matches exactly his lineup for the first four games, Matheny's not breaking any new ground with this one. Of course, maybe a change was less tempting for the Cardinals' manager, since his charges combined for 20 runs in Games 2 and 3. Which won't matter much if Gio Gonzalez rediscovers the control that so oddly deserted him in the opener.


Davey Johnson's Game 5 lineup: More of the same

With a trip to the National League Championship Series on the line, Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson has posted his Game 5 lineup, with right-hander Adam Wainwright starting for the St. Louis Cardinals:

1. Jayson Werth - RF
2. Bryce Harper* - CF
4. Adam LaRoche* - 1B
6. Ian Desmond - SS

Does that look familiar? It should, since the Nationals have sported the same lineup (excepting the pitcher, of course) in every game in this series. Some managers might like to shake things up somehow -- after all, the Nationals have scored only nine runs in four games. But Davey Johnson's been doing this for a long time, and perhaps he figures the odds are on his side. And he's probably right, although of course Adam Wainwright has a say in this thing, too.

Baseball's best Division Series Game 5's

For a while we didn't have them and while some want them to go away again, we can't deny there have been some memorable ones.

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