After three innings of the fifth and final game of the Nation League Central division championship game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Washington Nationals the Nationals seemed to be in solid control. Cardinals’ pitcher Adam Wainwright gave up seven hits
, including three home-runs, resulting in six runs scored in just over two innings played before being replaced by Cardinals’ relief pitcher Joe Kelly. For any Nationals fan it seemed a like Friday night would be filled with celebration; what they found was that it is never smart to count the St. Louis Cardinals out.
Known for their tenacity and ability to fight their way out of even the worst situations the Cardinals once again proved that if you keep playing hard until the last out amazing things can happen.
The first key to the Cardinals success on Friday night was the amazing job of the Cardinals’ bullpen. After starting work early in the third the Cardinals' relief pitchers allowed no runs and only one hit until the bottom of the eighth. This amazing performance allowed the Cardinals offense to go to work, slowly chipping away at the Nationals lead.
Even with the Cardinals stonewalling the Nationals' batters Washington fans had good reason to remain hopeful. Though the Cardinals began scoring in the fourth on several occasions they missed opportunities to eliminate the Nationals lead. One prime example occurred in the top of the fifth. The Cardinals had bases loaded with no outs; however, poor at bats by Jon Jay, Matt Holliday, and Yadier Molina resulted in only two runs scoring in the inning. One of which came as a result of a wild pitch to Carlos Beltran, and one forced in by a walk.
This did, however, result in the Cardinals cutting the Nationals’ lead in half, and further runs in the seventh and eighth innings brought them within one. Nationals fans, however, seemed to sigh a breath of relief when Adam LaRoche scored as a result of a single hit by Kurt Suzuki giving the Nationals a two run lead going into the ninth.
It was in the ninth that the Cardinals truly proved that they can never be counted out. Carlos Beltran opened up the inning with a double to center field and was then advanced to third by a ground out hit by Matt Holliday. Allen Craig then struck out leaving the Nationals just one out away from advancing to the National League Championship Series for the first time in 79 years. Next, Molina fouled twice bringing them within one strike of the NLCS; however it wasn’t to be. Nationals’ closing pitcher Drew Stolen couldn’t close the deal and walked Molina resulting in runners on first and third. This played out in nearly identical fashion with Cardinals’ batter David Freese once again bringing the Nationals within one strike of glory only to find themselves once again facing bases loaded. Then the magic happened.
Cardinals’ pinch runner Andron Chambers replaced Monlina on second base representing the tying run. Daniel Descalso of the Cardinals then hit a hard ground ball that allowed both Beltran and the speedy Chambers to score; eliminating the Nationals lead. Pete Kozma then became the hero of St. Louis fans everywhere when he hit a line drive to right field allowing Freeze and Descalso to score; putting the Cardinals in the lead for the first time of the night, 8-6. Though the inning would come to a close with the next batter the damage was done and Cardinals’ closing pitcher Jason Motte scored the win by putting down the Nationals batters in order.
The St. Louis cardinals will now advance to the NLCS having won 6 consecutive elimination games in a row. They will face the San Francisco Giants who clinched
their spot in the NLCS after beating the Cincinnati Reds in game four of that series on Thursday.
An interesting side note: This NLCS will pit the 2010 World Series winner (Giants) against the 2011 World Series winner (Cardinals).