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Pro Baseball: National pain—Cardinals rally to win Game 5

NATIONALS TAKE 6–0 LEAD EARLY,

BUT ST. LOUIS SCORES 4 IN NINTH

BY ZAC BOYER

WASHINGON—Ryan Zimmerman homered to right center field. So, too, did Bryce Harper. Michael Morse sent his to left.

In a span of three innings Friday night, the Washington Nationals made an emphatic statement to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Over the next six, the Cardinals made theirs.

St. Louis gradually chiseled away at a six-run lead, and the Cardinals advanced to play the San Francisco Giants in the National League Division Series beginning Sunday with a come-from-behind, 9–7 victory over Washington at Nationals Park.

While their pitching gave the Nationals the best record in the major leagues during the regular season, it was their undoing in their five games against the Cardinals.

Gio Gonzalez went only five innings, Edwin Jackson allowed a run in a seventh-inning relief appearance, Tyler Clippard surrendered a home run in the eighth and Drew Storen imploded in the ninth, surrendering a two-run lead with two outs.

So ended the Nationals’ first chance to play for their first National League pennant, and the city’s first since 1933.

Gonzalez mostly erased the memory of an erratic Game 1 start by allowing five hits and three runs in five innings—far from a gem, but sparkling enough to pass.

In fact, though the Nationals built a six-run lead after three innings, the result was never clear.

Outscored 23–9 over the first four games, Washington used the momentum of a ninth-inning walk-off home run by Jayson Werth in Game 4 on Thursday for early ammunition.

Werth, the leadoff batter, doubled into the left field corner, Harper hit a triple off the left center field wall and Zimmerman homered, giving Washington a quick 3–0 lead before starter Adam Wainwright recorded an out.

Harper led the charge in the third. He homered to left center field to start the third inning before Zimmerman doubled, and after Adam LaRoche struck out, Michael Morse dropped a two-run home run into the visitors’ bullpen in left center—a hit that knocked Wainwright from the game and gave Washington what, in a game of such magnitude, ordinarily would have been an insurmountable 6–0 lead.

But Gonzalez, who earned the Game 1 win despite feeling incredible pressure, began to struggle again. St. Louis picked up in a run in the fourth when Matt Holliday doubled in Carlos Beltran, and a lack of control at the start of the fifth led to Gonzalez loading the bases without any outs.

He allowed one run on a wild pitch and walked in another, and only a flyout to Werth in right field by Yadier Molina with the bases loaded saved the Cardinals from inflicting more damage.

Jackson, who manager Davey Johnson said before the game would only enter in extra innings, entered in the seventh. Battered for eight hits and four runs in a Game 3 loss, he allowed Jon Jay to score on a groundout, but struck out shortstop David Freese with the tying run on first.

Tyler Clippard, who struck out three of the four batters he faced in his one inning Thursday, surrendered a leadoff home run in the eighth to Daniel Descalso, who tucked the ball just over the wall inside the right field foul pole.

But Suzuki, acquired in August, drove in the seventh run in the eighth off Jason Motte, who led the National League with 42 saves. Adam LaRoche and Morse each singled to start the inning, Ian Desmond grounded into a force out that dropped Morse at second and Danny Espinosa popped out in foul territory before Suzuki scored LaRoche.

Storen, on for the save in the ninth, promptly allowed a leadoff double to Beltran. Holliday grounded out and Allen Craig struck out, but Storen couldn’t make a pitch, walking both Molina and Freese with full counts before Descalso drove in Beltran and Adron Chambers. Pete Kozma then plated Freese and Descalso.

Even as temperatures dipped into the low-50s on Friday, a standing room-only crowd of 45,966, the largest in stadium history, stayed on its feet.

It did so after the Nationals were retired in order in the ninth, saluting the Cardinals and Washington’s season.

Zac Boyer: 540/374-5440

zboyer@freelancestar.com

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