WASHINGTON — It doesn't matter how bad things look for the Cardinals. Trailing by a bunch, down to their last strike (twice), they simply stay calm and do what it takes to win.
Erasing an early six-run hole in Game 5 in their NL Division Series, the defending World Series champion Cardinals chipped away, then 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 to shock the Nationals 9-7 Friday night.
It was the largest comeback 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.
The Cardinals are the second team to overcome a multiple-run deficit in the ninth inning of a winner-take-all game (1992 Braves), according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
The Cardinals face the Giants in the first game of the National League Championship Series on Sunday in San Francisco.
Early on, Bryce Harper tripled and then homered the next time up to give starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez and the Nationals a 6-0 lead.
A night after Jayson Werth capped a 13-pitch at-bat by hitting a winning home run in the ninth, the Nationals needed only seven pitches to put the defending World Series champions in early trouble.
Werth led off with a double against Adam Wainwright, Harper tripled and Ryan Zimmerman homered for a 3-0 lead in the first. Harper and Michael Morse chased Wainwright with home runs in the third.
The 19-year-old Harper became the first teenager to hit a triple in a postseason game and the second-youngest player to homer.
Down 6-0, the Cardinals trimmed the deficit with a run in the fourth and two more in the fifth.
Werth, who won Game 4 with a ninth-inning shot off reliever Lance Lynn, was greeted with a resounding ovation from the red-clad, towel-waving fans at Nationals Park. He heard the roars again when he lined a double to the leftfield corner.
Harper, 1-for-18 in the series entering the game, followed with a drive to left-center that hit only a foot or two from the top of the wall. Zimmerman then launched a 1-and-0 pitch to Row 1 in right-center, giving the Nationals a trio of runs before anyone on the home team had made an out.
That was more runs than Washington had scored in the previous two games combined, and it was the first time Wainwright had allowed more than one run in any of his 12 career postseason appearances.