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Posted: Friday, October 12, 2012 11:45 pm | Updated: 2:46 pm, Thu Oct 24, 2013.

WASHINGTON (AP) — In the end, it made sense that Yadier Molina and David Freese would work those key walks, and that Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma would come through with those tying and go-ahead, two-run hits.

The names might change. Not the outcomes. This is what the St. Louis Cardinals do.

Pushed to the brink, they never blink.

Trailing by three runs before they recorded an out Friday night, then six before the third inning was over, and still behind when down to their last strike over and over again with two outs in the ninth inning, the defending World Series champions fashioned the sort of comeback they’ve made their specialty.

Waiting until after midnight to finally take the lead, the never-give-up Cardinals erased the biggest deficit ever overcome in a winner-take-all postseason contest and beat the Washington Nationals 9-7 in Game 5 of the NL division series.

“How did that happen?!” Carlos Beltran asked, speaking to no one in particular in the visiting clubhouse at Nationals Park.

Not long before that, a blue bin stuffed with ice and beer cans had been hurriedly wheeled from the Nationals’ side of the stadium to the Cardinals’ room. Yes, the Cardinals turn losses into wins — and then they steal the other guys’ bubbly, too.

“We never quit,” Molina said. “That’s our rule.”

According to STATS LLC, no other club in this sort of ultimate pressure situation had come back from more than four runs down. But being behind 3-0, 6-0, 7-5 — none of that fazes these Cardinals. Over the past two years, they have won six postseason games in a row in which a defeat would have ended their season.

“We knew we had a lot of game left after they scored six. Nobody went up there trying to hit a six-run homer,” said No. 7 hitter Descalso, whose solo shot in the eighth made it 6-5. “We needed to scratch and claw and get ourselves back in the game.”

That run of recent must-have victories for St. Louis includes the wild-card playoff game at Atlanta last weekend, and Games 6 and 7 of the 2011 World Series against Texas. Last year, too, St. Louis was a strike away from being done.

“It’s just the kind of people they are. They believe in themselves. They believe in each other,” first-year manager Mike Matheny said. “It’s been this style of team all season long. They just don’t quit, and I think that just says a lot about their character.”

His wild-card Cardinals, who only secured a playoff spot on the next-to-last day of the regular season, will open the NL championship series against the Giants in San Francisco on Sunday. Lance Lynn, used in relief against Washington, will go back to the rotation and start Game 1.

Madison Bumgarner will pitch Sunday for the Giants, who dropped the first two games of their NLDS against Cincinnati before taking Game 5 on Thursday.

The Nationals led the majors with 98 regular-season wins, and made it an even 100 in the NLDS, but their run ended without All-Star ace Stephen Strasburg. The team said he’d thrown enough in his first full season after Tommy John surgery and didn’t put him on the playoff roster.

“I stand by my decision, and we’ll take the criticism as it comes,” general manager Mike Rizzo said, “but we have to do what’s best for the Washington Nationals, and we think we did.”

Even without Strasburg, Washington had its chances to knock off the Cardinals. Oh, were there chances. For a total of five pitches, closer Drew Storen was one strike away from ending the game. But on all five, the batters — first Molina, then 2011 NLCS and World Series MVP Freese — took a pitch that was called a ball.

Both walked, setting the stage for Descalso and Kozma.

“We had it right there, and the most disappointing thing I’ll say is that I just let these guys down,” Storen said in a quiet Nationals clubhouse, where plastic sheets meant to protect belongings from spraying champagne were rolled up above players’ lockers, unneeded. “There’s a bad taste in my mouth and that’s going to stay there for a couple of months. It’s probably never going to leave.”

That’s thanks to the resilience of the Cardinals, who came through the way they tend to, if only barely: Descalso, who hit .227 in the regular season, came up with a game-saving single that ticked off the glove of diving shortstop Ian Desmond to make it 7-all.

Then it was No. 8 hitter Kozma’s turn. He hit .236 in nearly 2,500 at-bats over six seasons in the minors — the unheralded guy was mistakenly called “Cosmos” by Nationals manager Davey Johnson before Game 4 — and was in the Cardinals’ lineup only because of an injury to Rafael Furcal. But he sent another pitch from Storen into right field.

“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.

© 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Area Scoreboard

Boys Basketball

Monday, Jan. 26

^Rock Bridge 79, Northwest 27

^Lutheran South 76, Hillsboro 43

Owensville 41, Hermann 40

St. James 80, Montgomery County 39

Tuesday, Jan. 27

Jackson 65, Pacific 44

^Borgia 82,  Union 61

~Warrenton 69, Chamois 24

^Washington 49, St. Clair 45 (OT)

~Wright City 51, New Haven 37

*Bethel at Crosspoint    7:45 p.m.

Wednesday, Jan. 28

Fulton SA at Thomas Jefferson    6:30 p.m.

Thursday, Jan. 29

^Hillsboro 49, Northwest 34

~New Haven 35, Chamois 28

~Wright City 47, Warrenton 41

^Union 63,  St. Clair 60

~Hermann 63 vs. Montgomery Co 5

St. James 57, Owensville 35

Friday, Jan. 30

^Rock Bridge 80, Lutheran South 59

^Borgia 46, Washington 43 (OT)

*Providence at Crosspoint    7:30 p.m.

Eagle Ridge at Fulton SA    7:30 p.m.

Saturday, Jan. 31

^Seventh-place game — St. Clair vs. Northwest   2:30 p.m.

~Seventh-place game    2:30 p.m.

^Consolation — Union vs. Hillsboro    4 p.m.

~Consolation    4 p.m.

^Third-place game — Washington vs. Lutheran South   5:30 p.m.

~Third-place game    5:30 p.m.

^Championship — Borgia vs. Rock Bridge    7 p.m.

~Championship    7 p.m.

^Union Tournament

~Hermann Tournament

Monday, Feb. 2

New Haven at Silex   5:30  p.m.

Fulton SA at North County Christian    7:30 p.m.

Tuesday, Feb. 3

Whitfield at Union    4 p.m.

*Crosspoint at Fulton SA    6:30 p.m.

Pacific at Borgia    6:45 p.m.

*Holt at Washington    7 p.m.

Thursday, Feb. 5

*Fulton SA at Community Christian    6:30 p.m.

*Duchesne at Borgia    6:45 p.m.

*Rivers of Life at Crosspoint    7 p.m.

Wellsville at New Haven     6 p.m.

Friday, Feb. 6

*Union at New Haven    6 p.m.

*Pacific at St. James    6 p.m.

*Borgia at St. Mary’s    6:45 p.m.

*St. Clair at Sullivan    7 p.m.

Monday, Feb. 9

Crosspoint, Fulton SA at MAC Tny    TBA

Tuesday, Feb. 10

*St. Clair at Pacific    5:30 p.m.

*Hermann at Union    5:30 p.m.

Rock Bridge at Borgia    7:15 p.m.

Crosspoint, Fulton SA at MAC Tny    TBA

Owensville at New Haven   6 p.m.

Girls Basketball

Monday, Jan. 26

^Holt 60, Pacific 57

^Warrenton 42, Union 40

~Owensville 64,  Montgomery Co 32

Borgia 62, Cardinal Ritter 41

^St. Clair 64, Lutheran South 45

~Hermann 57, Wright City 26

Washington 74, Wentzville Liberty 19

Tuesday, Jan. 27

Fulton SA at Barat    4:30 p.m.

~New Haven 42, Montgomery Co 34

*Bethel at Crosspoint    6:15 p.m.

~Chamois 61, Wright City 20

Wednesday, Jan. 28

^Pacific 62, Union 59 (OT)

Fulton SA at Thomas Jefferson    5 p.m.

^Lutheran South 54, Wentzville Liberty 40

~Owensville 54, New Haven 24

^Warrenton 51, Holt 44

~Chamois 50, Hermann 45

^Washington 54, St. Clair 31

Thursday, Jan. 29

*Notre Dame 50, Borgia 45

Friday, Jan. 30

^Seventh-place game — Union 66, Wentzville Liberty 31

~Consolation — Montgomery Co. vs. Wright City    5 p.m.

^Consolation — Lutheran South 55, Pacific 49

*Providence at Crosspoint    6 p.m.

Eagle Ridge at Fulton SA    6 p.m.

~Third-place game — Hermann vs. New Haven   6:30 p.m.

^Third-place game — Holt 63, St. Clair 49

~Championship — Owensville vs. Chamois   8 p.m.

^Championship — Washington 61 Warrenton 50

Monday, Feb. 2

#Borgia vs. Patriettes    4 p.m.

#Cardinal Ritter vs. Union    5:20 p.m.

De Soto at St. Clair    5:30 p.m.

Fulton SA at North County Christian    6 p.m.

#Washington vs. Parkway South    6:40 p.m.

Chamois at New Haven    7 p.m.

#Helias vs. Troy    8 p.m.

Tuesday, Feb. 3

*Crosspoint at Fulton SA    5 p.m.

Wednesday, Feb. 4

#Washington-Parkway South loser vs. Helias-Troy loser    4 p.m.

#Borgia-Patriettes loser vs. Cardinal Ritter-Union loser    5:20 p.m.

#Washington-Parkway South winner vs. Helias-Troy winner    6:40 p.m.

#Borgia-Patriettes winner vs. Cardinal Ritter-Union winner    8 p.m.

Thursday, Feb. 5

*Pacific at St. James    6 p.m.

Friday, Feb. 6

Barat at Fulton SA    4:30 p.m.

*St. Clair at Sullivan    5:30 p.m.

*Rivers of Life at Crosspoint    5:30 p.m.

Saturday, Feb. 7

#Seventh-place game    noon

#Consolation    1:30 p.m.

#Third-place game    3 p.m.

#Championship    4:30 p.m.

New Haven at Elsberry    5 p.m.

Monday, Feb. 9

*Hermann at Union    5:30 p.m.

*St. Clair at Pacific    5:30 p.m.

*Owensville at New Haven    6 p.m.

*St. Dominic at Borgia    6:45 p.m.

Crosspoint, Fulton SA at MAC Tny    TBA

Tuesday, Feb. 10

*Washington at Ft. Zumwalt South    5:30 p.m.

Crosspoint, Fulton SA at MAC Tny    TBA

^Washington Tournament

~Hermann Tournament

#Borgia Tournament

Wrestling

Tuesday, Jan. 27

*Pacific 42, St. Clair 33

Borgia 36, Hallsville 30

Helias 66, Borgia 21

Wednesday, Jan. 28

Borgia at Lutheran St. Charles    5 p.m.

Thursday, Jan. 29

Summit 39, Union 34

Owensville 41, Pacific 38

Pacific 45, St. James 28

Friday, Jan. 30

St. Clair at DeSoto   5 p.m.

Saturday, Jan. 31

Pacific at Hazelwood East Tny    9 a.m.

St. Clair at DeSoto 9 a.m.

Monday, Feb. 2

Borgia at O’Fallon Christian    5 p.m.

Tuesday, Feb. 3

Washington at Pacific    6 p.m.

Wednesday, Feb. 4

Borgia at AAA Tny    TBA

Thursday, Feb. 5

*Pacific at Union    6 p.m.

Saturday, Feb. 7

Washington at Seckman Tny    9 a.m.

St. Clair at Francis Howell Central Inv    9:30 a.m.

Tuesday, Feb. 10

Pacific at Parkway Central Tri-Meet    5 p.m.

Girls Swimming

Tuesday, Jan. 20

Timberland 140, Washington 96, Ft. Zumwalt East 87

Thursday, Jan. 22

Oakville 120, Washington 115, University City 9, Mehlville 6

Saturday, Jan. 24

Washington 91, Borgia 80

Tuesday, Jan. 27

Washington 122, St. Charles West 46

Thursday, Jan. 29

Washington at Affton/Lutheran South    4:15 p.m.

Borgia at St. Dominic    8:30 p.m.

Tuesday, Feb. 3

Washington at McCluer North    3:30 p.m.

Wednesday, Feb. 4

Borgia at MICDS/Duchesne (Rec-Plex)    8:30 p.m.

Friday, Feb. 6

Washington at Ft. Zumwalt South    3:30 p.m.

Tuesday, Feb. 10

Borgia at Nerinx Hall    4 p.m.

Washington at GAC Meet    TBA

Wednesday, Feb. 11

Washington at GAC Meet    TBA

Thursday, Feb. 12

Borgia at AAA Meet    TBA

Washington at GAC Meet    TBA

*Conference Games

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