One strike away, Nationals fall after Cards rally

One strike away, Nationals fall after Cards rally

One strike away, Nationals fall after Cards rally
WASHINGTON -- The Nationals' season is over. Closer Drew Storen couldn't hold a two-run lead as Washington lost to the Cardinals, 9-7, in Game 5 of the National League Division Series on Friday.

The Cards now advance to the NL Championship Series to play the Giants.

Washington had a 7-5 lead going into the top of the ninth inning. As the inning began, the Nats had plastic wrap around their lockers, as it looked like there would be a champagne celebration. But that was not the case, as the Cardinals scored four runs against Storen.

Storen was one strike away from getting David Freese for the final out, but Freese walked. Daniel Descalso came to the plate, and on the first pitch, he singled off the glove of shortstop Ian Desmond, scoring Carlos Beltran and Adron Chambers to make it a 7-7 game.

Manager Davey Johnson then elected to pitch to Pete Kozma, rather than walk him to get to pitcher Jason Motte. Kozma singled to right field to send home Freese and Descalso to put the Cards on top.

"I think he felt like he was making good pitches, but they were missing," Johnson said about Storen. "I think he just tried to be too fine. He's got a great moving live fastball. Just need to throw it over."

Afterward, Storen received the support of his teammates, but he still felt he let his team down.

"I know there has been unbelievable support," Storen said. "The mount of adversity we dealt with this year, to kind of let it come down to that, it's pretty tough. ... The pitches were working fine. I didn't execute."

After the game, Johnson tried to be as positive as he could be under the circumstances.

"I just told them it was nothing to hang your head about," Jonson said. "It was a great year. We overcame a lot of problems. We proved our worth, and we just need to let this be a lesson and learn from it, have more resolve, come back and carry it a lot farther."

Descalso reminded everyone why the Cardinals are the defending World Series champions. They never give up until the final out is made.

"It would have been easy for us to go down 6-0 and sort of roll over and let the crowd take us out of it, and just let them have the game," Descalso said. "I've been telling people we have got baseball players in that clubhouse, guys that are going to grind out at-bats and grind out innings. We took it upon ourselves to individually have the determination to have good at-bats, and the bullpen carried us those last six innings, and there's a never-say-die attitude in the clubhouse."

Cards right-hander Adam Wainwright struggled in Game 5, the antithesis of his effort in Game 1. Wainwright lasted 2 1/3 innings and allowed six runs on seven hits on Friday.

In the first inning, Jayson Werth, the Game 4 hero, started things off with a double and later scored on a triple by Bryce Harper. Ryan Zimmerman followed Harper, hitting a 1-0 pitch over the right-center-field wall for his second postseason home run to make it a 3-0 game.

Two innings later, Washington powered its way to three more runs against Wainwright. Harper led off with a homer, and after Zimmerman doubled and Adam LaRoche struck out, Michael Morse hit a two-run homer to make it a 6-0 Nationals lead.

There were chants of "Let's go, Gio" reverberating throughout Nationals Park, and left-hander Gio Gonzalez did enough to have himself in line for the win, pitching five innings, allowing three runs on three hits and striking out five batters. He pitched on his normal five days' rest, but he still had problems throwing strikes, as he did in Game 1 of the NLDS. Gonzalez walked seven batters in that game. In Game 5, the southpaw had four walks.

Gonzalez had a 6-1 lead when he got into trouble in the fifth inning. The Cardinals had the bases loaded when the lefty threw a wild pitch that allowed Descalso to come home.

Three batters later, Allen Craig drew a walk, which allowed Shane Robinson to score and make it a three-run game. Gonzalez managed to get out of the inning when Yadier Molina flied out to Werth in right field.

"I left winning, and that's all that matters," Gonzalez said. "I gave the team a chance. That's what they wanted out of me. I think we all battled."

It seemed that Johnson was disappointed in Gonzalez's performance, specifically the four walks.

"It seemed like Gio had the problem. You just can't win big ballgames by giving free passes," Johnson said. "You've got to trust your defense behind you, go after them. We've been really good all year. Just having a little hiccup here at the end."

The Nationals' troubles were just beginning after Gonzalez exited. Right-hander Edwin Jackson entered the game in the seventh inning. St. Louis had runners on second and third with no outs when Matt Holliday grounded out to Desmond, but Jon Jay scored on the play to make it a two-run game.

After Craig struck out and Molina walked, Freese struck out swinging to end the threat.

Tyler Clippard entered the game in the eighth inning and allowed a solo home run to Descalso before retiring the Cards, keeping it a one-run game.

Kurt Suzuki plated a run with a two-out RBI single in the eighth off Cardinals reliever Jason Motte.

But Storen couldn't hold the lead, the Nats went down in order in the bottom of the ninth, and they now go home for the winter.

"With that team over there, you can never count them out," Zimmerman said. "We obviously thought we did a good job of getting ahead, doing what we needed to do. They kind of kept scraping -- one here, one there. We did a good job getting that run off Motte in the eighth. It just didn't work out for us."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.