In one of the most stunning endings to a playoff game in recent memory, the St. Louis Cardinals came back from a 6-0 deficit to eliminate the Washington Nationals 9-7 in game 5 of the National League Division Series Friday night.
The collapse was a tragedy that could have been written by Shakespeare himself. Heading into the ninth inning trailing 7-5, the Cardinals were eventually down to their last strike two separate times in front of 45,966 delirious Nationals fans and both times they survived. The Cardinals survived long enough in the ninth to plate four runs, giving the defending champs a two-run lead that they would hold on to.
Down six runs early on, the defending World Series champion Cardinals got a game tying two-out, two-run single from Daniel Descalso in the final frame. They then got a go-ahead, two-out, two-RBI single from Pete Kozma to make the Cardinals comeback complete.
Early on it seemed that the fans in Washington would definitely be partying it up as Jayson Werth lead off the first with a double. The next batter, Bryce Harper, then tripled scoring Werth. St. Louis Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright after that gave up a 2-run home run to Ryan Zimmerman, scoring Harper and giving the Nationals a 3-0 lead before they had anybody out.
It then looked like Nationals victory was a sure thing after three innings as the Nationals flexed their muscles again in the third. Bryce Harper hit a solo home run to lead off the inning and Michael Morse hit a 2-run homer, scoring Ryan Zimmerman to increase the Nationals lead to 6-0.
That was the end of the road for Wainwright, exiting after only 2 1/3 innings, surrendering six runs on seven hits and three homers. Little did he know he would be let off the hook.
It started innocently enough in the fourth inning when Carlos Beltran walked and scored on Matt Holliday's double to get on the board.
In the fifth, Daniel Descalso lead off with a double off the fence in right. He moved to third on Pete Kozma's single. Pinch-hitter Shane Robinson then walked and suddenly the Cardinals had the bases loaded with nobody out. Gonzalez then threw a wild pitch that scored Descalso and advanced the other runners, cutting the lead to 6-2.
Gonzalez then walked Carlos Beltran to load the bases again, then Gonzalez walked in another run making the score 6-3. The 20-game winner pitched five innings, giving up three runs on five hits. It was four walks that proved costly for Gonzalez as two of them scored.
The walks continued to haunt the Nationals as starter Edwin Jackson, on in relief in the seventh inning, walked leadoff batter Jon Jay. Beltran then doubled to right and Jay went to third. Beltran went 3-3 and scored twice. Jay would score on a Holliday grounder shrinking the Nationals lead to 6-4.
Descalso struck again in the eighth inning when he homered to right off of set-up man Tyler Clippard, making it 6-5. At that point it was undeniable. The Nationals were in trouble and needed an answer.
They got it in a huge RBI single by Kurt Suzuki that scored Adam LaRoche giving the Nationals a huge insurance run and a 7-5 lead. Up two runs the Nationals sent their closer to the mound in the 9th.
The comeback was complete in the ninth as Drew Storen gave up a leadoff double to Beltran. Then after retiring two batters in a row, Storen walked Yadier Molina after having a 2-strike count. David Freese would also walk after being down to two strikes. With the bases loaded, Descalso then ripped a single straight through the diamond that bounced off Ian Desmond's diving glove and into center field scoring Beltran and Molina while Freese went to third. The game was suddenly tied and the crowd was stunned and silenced.
The unheralded Descalso went 3-5 with 3-RBI Friday and batted .316 for the series. The 6-7-8 hitters for St. Louis were huge for the redbirds, batting .333 with 3 homers and 13 RBI.
The Nationals were retired in order in the ninth as Jason Motte (1-0) got the win and the comeback was complete. Cardinals sprinted onto the field as Nationals players stared blankly from the dugout, seemingly not accepting that their season was suddenly over. It was a completely devastating loss for the Nationals and a city starving for a winner. Washington hasn't had a baseball winner since 1933.
It will undoubtedly be a long winter for most of these Nationals players and their fans as they contemplate what could have been, and what almost was. It is the beauty and misery of October baseball and it was all there for all to see. Unfortunately for the Nationals, they saw no beauty in their end, just like in Shakespeare.
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