Never Say Die: Cards advance to NLCS with shocking rally

It took the largest comeback in a do-or-die game in postseason history, but the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals are back in the National League Championship Series for the second consecutive year.

Trailing by six after three innings and two in the ninth, the Cardinals came roaring back with four runs in the final frame, as Pete Kozma slapped a go- ahead, two-run single to lift the Cardinals to a 9-7 victory over the Washington Nationals in the deciding Game 5 of their NLDS on Friday at Nationals Park.

Down 7-5 to start the ninth, Carlos Beltran ripped a leadoff double into center field off Nationals closer Drew Storen (1-1) and moved to third on Matt Holliday's groundout.

Allen Craig then fanned before Yadier Molina battled back from a 2-2 count to work a walk. David Freese, last year's World Series MVP, then worked his way back from a 1-2 hole to earn a free pass and load the bases.

Daniel Descalso then slapped the first pitch he saw back up the middle and Ian Desmond made a diving attempt at shortstop, but the ball tipped off his glove and trickled into center field, allowing Beltran and pinch-runner Adron Chambers to score and knot the game at 7-7.

After Descalso swiped second, Komza slapped a base hit down the right-field line to give St. Louis a two-run lead.

Jason Motte (1-0) then retired the Nationals in order in the bottom half to send the Cardinals to their 7th NLCS since 2000.

"They just don't quit. I think that just says a lot about their character," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of his club. "They realized that no matter what is being said out there, no matter how many people count them out, they control their destiny."

Descalso added a solo shot in the eighth and also scored three times, while Beltran finished 3-for-3 with two runs scored for the Cardinals, who will travel to San Francisco to take on the Giants on Sunday in a rematch of the 2002 NLCS, which the Giants won 4-1.

"That's an awesome feeling to share that moment with these guys after coming back from a 6-0 deficit like that," Descalso remarked. "It was just awesome."

Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper and Michael Morse all homered for the Nationals, who were bidding for the franchise's first trip to the NLCS since the Montreal Expos in 1981.

"I just told them there's nothing to hang your head about. It was a great year," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said about his team, which finished the regular season with the best record in the majors. "We proved our worth and we just need to let this be a lesson."

Washington built its lead with three-runs in the first and three more in the third.

Jayson Werth, who launched a game-winning home run in Game 4 to force a decisive fifth game, opened the home first with a double and scored when Harper followed with a triple.

Zimmerman then launched a cutter into the seats in right-center field to give Washington a 3-0 edge.

Harper led off the third with a shot into the right-center field seats and after Zimmerman's double, Morse followed two batters later with a blast into a dejected Cardinals' bullpen in left-center field.

Morse's homer marked the end of St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright's night, as Joe Kelly entered and struck out both batters he faced.

The visitors began to chip away at the lead in the fourth as Beltran worked a leadoff walk and came around to score on Holliday's double into the left-field corner.

Descalso opened the fifth with a double off the base of the wall in right field before Kozma's single and Shane Robinson's pinch-hit walk loaded the bases with no outs.

After Jon Jay's soft fly out to second base, Washington starter Gio Gonzalez uncorked a wild pitch on a 2-2 curveball to Beltran and Descalso raced home from third.

Beltran then walked to re-load the bases, but Holliday slapped a chopper back to the mound and Gonzalez tossed home to catch Kozma at the plate.

Craig followed with a walk to plate Robinson and bring the Cardinals within 6-3, but Gonzalez got Molina to fly out to right field to end the rally.

St. Louis inched closer in the seventh, as Jay worked a leadoff walk and quickly moved to third on Beltran's double before scoring on a groundout by Holliday.

Descalso's leadoff homer in the eighth trimmed the margin to one, but Washington got the run back in the bottom half when Kurt Suzuki slapped a two- out single back up the middle to score Adam LaRoche and give the home team a two-run advantage heading into the ninth.

Game Notes

Wainwright allowed six runs on seven hits with five strikeouts over 2 1/3 frames ... Gonzalez surrendered three runs on five hits and four walks over five innings ... St. Louis has won seven straight postseason games when facing elimination dating back to 2006 ... The previous mark for largest comeback in a do-or-die game was four runs by the 2003 New York Yankees and the 1925 Pittsburgh Pirates.