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Cardinals stun Nationals with 9th-inning rally

The Cardinals' Pete Kozma hits a two-run single in the ninth inning against the Washington Nationals during Game 5 of their NLDS series in Washington, October 12, 2012. (Reuters)

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By Newsday
Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012, 12:46 a.m.

WASHINGTON — No matter how bad today might look to the St. Louis Cardinals, they always find a way to make it to tomorrow. Their greatest strength is their knack for hanging in and hanging on once they reach the brink, which is by far their favorite spot.

Twice down to their final strike Friday against Washington Nationals closer Drew Storen, the defending World Series champions scored four times in the top of the ninth and won Game 5 of the Division Series, 9-7. And that was after having spotted the inspired young opponent an early 6-0 lead. It was their seventh consecutive win in a potential elimination game.

Again, the only thing eliminated was any doubt about their immense clutch ability. Daniel Descalso, the unheralded second baseman whom Nationals' manager Davey Johnson said has resembled Rod Carew this week, tied it with a two-out single off the glove of shortstop Ian Desmond. Then Pete Kozma, the Cardinals' rookie shortstop pressed into action because of a late season injury to Rafael Furcal, hit a two-run single to right. Just like that, a two-run deficit turned into a resounding win.

Instead of going home, the Cardinals will open the National League Championship Series against the Giants in San Francisco on Sunday. They are obviously comfortable on the edge and in the postseason. A wild-card team for the second consecutive year, they seem better in the playoffs than the regular season.

“We don't really classify ourselves as one thing or another,” manager Mike Matheny said. “What I would like to say about our team is that we've shown a lot of heart this year. I'd say, also, they don't quit, and it's hard to beat a team that doesn't quit.”

The St. Louis pitching staff held the Nationals scoreless after Cardinals No. 1 starter Adam Wainwright allowed six runs, including three homers, in the first three innings. And the hitters just kept chipping away.

Against Nationals 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez, who lost track of the strike zone as he had in Game 1, they scored twice in the fifth to make it 6-3. One run came home on a wild pitch, another on one of the three walks allowed in the inning by Gonzalez.

That was a bit of an answer to the fast start fueled by 19-year-old Nationals star Bryce Harper, who had a triple in the first and a homer in the third, and mainstay Ryan Zimmerman, who had a home run in the first and a double in the third.

Matt Holliday's groundout in the seventh against Edwin Jackson brought home a run that was set up by a double from Carlos Beltran. Descalso led off the eighth with a home run against Tyler Clippard. Beltran got the winning rally going with a leadoff double in the ninth.

“We learned last year going down the stretch when we were down 10 12 games with however many we had left, what it's like to play under those kind of pressure situations, and we saw how if you just take it one game at a time,” pitcher Kyle Lohse said.

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