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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.

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Area Scoreboard

62nd Annual Borgia Pepsi Thanksgiving Tournament

Blue Division

Pool 1

McCluer North

Normandy

Carnahan

Pool 2

Cardinal Ritter

Pacific

Rockwood Summit

Gold Division

Pool 1

CBC

Soldan

Washington

Pool 2

Borgia

North Tech

Union

Monday, Nov. 24

CBC 77, Washington 52

Tuesday, Nov. 25

Cardinal Ritter vs. Rockwood Summit, PPD

Washington 63, Soldan 62

Borgia 83, Union 50

Wednesday, Nov. 26

Carnahan 71, Normandy 46

Pacific 64, Rockwood Summit 22

North Tech 67, Union 37

Thursday, Nov. 27

McCluer North 95 Carnahan 68

CBC 82, Soldan 55

Borgia 50, North Tech 45

Friday, Nov. 28

McCluer North 93, Normandy 39

Pacific 70, Cardinal Ritter 57

Saturday, Nov. 29

Blue Consolation — Rockwood Summit 47, Normandy 38

Gold Consolation — Soldan 78, Union 59

Gold Third Place — North Tech 63, Washington 57

Blue Third Place — Cardinal Ritter 71, Carnahan 46

Blue Championship — McCluer North 64, Pacific 58 (OT)

Gold Championship — CBC 67, Borgia 66

Boys Basketball

Monday, Dec. 8

Lutheran S 64, St. Clair 48

Borgia 61, Carnahan 51

Tuesday, Dec. 9

Lafayette 44, Washington 35

Friday, Dec. 12

Potosi 72, St. Clair 45

*Washington 69, Ft. Zumwalt North 65

Montgomery Co 62, New Haven 61

*St. Mary’s at Borgia    6:45 p.m.

Bourbon 75, Union 74

Glendale 63, Pacific 46

Saturday, Dec. 13

New Haven 46, Barat 40

Nixa 56, Pacific 46

Tuesday, Dec. 16

*Pacific 70, New Haven 35

*Hermann 67, St. Clair 49

*Ft. Zumwalt South 61, Washington 50

*Union 81, St. James 74

Thursday, Dec. 18

Friday, Dec. 19

*Owensville at St. Clair    4 p.m.

Washington vs. Parkway Central, GAC/Suburban Shootout, St. Charles Family Arena, 5:30 p.m.

*St. James at New Haven    6 p.m.

*Pacific at Union    7 p.m.

Saturday, Dec. 20

%Washington vs. TBA    4 p.m.

%Borgia vs. Poplar Bluff    5:30 p.m.

%St. Clair vs. TBA    TBA

%Sullivan Shootout

Girls Basketball

Saturday, Dec. 6

Cor Jesu 63, Borgia 60

New Haven 46, Moberly 39

Monday, Dec. 8

Pacific 73, Rolla 40

St. Clair 68, Dixon 37

Washington 54, New Haven 15

Tuesday, Dec. 9

*Borgia 59, Rosati-Kain 38

Union 53, Northwest 44

Thursday, Dec. 11

*Borgia 60, Notre Dame 53

Union 81, Bourbon 53

Friday, Dec. 12

New Haven 45, Principia 30

*Washington 59, Ft. Zumwalt North 32

Saturday, Dec. 13

West Plains 76, Pacific 37

Monday, Dec. 15

*Pacific 46, New Haven 28

*St. Clair 59, Hermann 50

*St. James 64, Union 37

Sullivan Tournament

Cuba 48, Principia 27

Borgia 68, Patriettes 29

Sullivan 56, Pattonville 43

Owensville 78, Farmington 54

Wednesday, Dec. 17

Sullivan Tournament

Pattonville vs. Farmington, 4 p.m.

Sullivan vs. Owensville, 5:30 p.m.

Principia vs. Pattonville, 7 p.m.

Borgia vs. Cuba, 8:30 p.m.

Thursday, Dec. 18

*St. James at New Haven    6 p.m.

*Pacific at Union    7 p.m.

Friday, Dec. 19

Washington at Francis Howell    7 p.m.

Sullivan Tournament    TBA

Saturday, Dec. 20

Union at Waynesville    5 p.m.

Wrestling

Monday, Dec. 8

Maplewood 48, Borgia 30

Brentwood 47, Borgia 36

Winfield 48, St. Clair 36

St. Clair 42, St. James 40

Tuesday, Dec. 9

Pacific 55, North County 10

Jackson 63, Washington 12

Farmington 63, Washington 6

Wednesday, Dec. 10

Borgia 36, Lutheran St. Charles 34

Winfield 54, Borgia 30

Thursday, Dec. 11

Union 72, Ft. Zumwalt East 9

Union 52, Principia 30

Union 54, Winfield 27

Saturday, Dec. 13

Union Tournament    9 a.m.

Borgia at McCluer S-Berkeley Tny    9 a.m.

Pacific at Farmington Tny    9 a.m.

Tuesday, Dec. 16

Owensville 61, St. Clair 16

Union 48, Owensville 27

Union 65, St. Clair 18

Friday, Dec. 19

Washington at Raytown S Tny    TBA

Union at Cape Central Tny    TBA

Pacific at Ft. Zumwalt E Tny    TBA

Saturday, Dec. 20

Washington at Raytown S Tny    TBA

Union at Cape Central Tny    TBA

Pacific at Ft. Zumwalt E Tny    TBA

Girls Swimming

Monday, Dec. 8

Washington at Eureka    4:30 p.m.

Tuesday, Dec. 9

Washington at Nerinx Hall    4 p.m.

LSC/OFC 134, Borgia 101, St. Dominic 83

Monday, Dec. 15

Borgia at Notre Dame (Forest Park)    4 p.m.

Washington at Kennedy    6:30 p.m.

Wednesday, Dec. 17

Washington at Lindbergh    4 p.m.

*Conference Games

Racing News