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Carlos Beltran began the ninth with a double. Two quick outs later, though, Washington was oh-so-close to a victory. But Storen couldn't get the last strike on Molina. Same thing with Freese. Then Descalso's shot up the middle went off Desmond's glove. The Nationals were inches, perhaps, from advancing. The Cardinals that near to their season finished.
Instead, they carry on, like they always seem to at this time of year. St. Louis is in the NLCS for the seventh time since the start of the 2000 season.
In Game 6 of last year's World Series, the Cardinals twice were one strike from losing, before Freese's two-run triple in the ninth, then Lance Berkman's tying RBI single in the 10th. Freese's homer won it in the 11th, and St. Louis went on to a 6-2 victory in Game 7.
Here they were, doing it again.
All in front of a Nationals Park-record crowd of 45,966 witnessing the first postseason series in the nation's capital in 79 years. So seemingly close to a significant triumph, the Nationals -- and their fans -- left disappointed. Not long after the final out, a few dozen Cardinals fans gathered in the rows right behind the visiting dugout to chant, "Let's go, Cards! Let's go, Cards!"
Hours earlier, the red-dressed D.C. spectators began the night with chants of "Let's go, Nats!" right after the national anthem, then filled the raw October air with roars as run after run scored for the home team. But over the final innings, those Washington baseball fans wound up looking on with hearts in throats.
At the outset, highlights of leadoff hitter Werth's epic, 13-pitch at-bat from about 25 1/2 hours before were shown on the video board as he began the bottom of the first. On Thursday night, he ended Game 4 with a homer in the bottom of the ninth that gave Washington a 2-1 victory.
Picking up right where he left off, Werth doubled to the left-field corner off Adam Wainwright, and Harper followed with an RBI triple off the wall in left-center. Harper won't turn 20 until Tuesday; no other teen had a postseason three-bagger, according to STATS.
Harper was 1 for 18 for a .056 batting average -- yes, .056 -- with six strikeouts and zero RBIs in the NLDS until that moment. After sliding in well ahead of the throw to third, he popped up and pointed at Werth, who kept clapping and clapping after crossing home plate.
A foot or two higher, and that hit by Harper would have been a homer. No matter: Zimmerman completed the crescendo by driving an 86 mph cutter into the first row beyond the wall in right-center.
In 11 previous postseason appearances -- mainly as a reliever -- Wainwright never had allowed more than one run in any entire outing, much less three in a single inning.
Got worse in the third. Harper led off with a homer, to the same area of right-center as Zimmerman's but a few rows deeper. Zimmerman doubled, and Michael Morse turned on the next pitch for a two-run homer to left that made it 6-0.
That was it for Wainwright, whose evening was over after 53 pitches across 2 1-3 innings.
His season, however, will continue. He plays for the can't-quit Cardinals, after all.
NOTES: Beltran went 3 for 3 plus two walks. ... The 9-7 final score might be familiar to longtime Washington baseball historians. In the last all-or-nothing game for a Washington baseball team, the Senators lost Game 7 of the 1925 World Series at Pittsburgh by the exact same score when Walter Johnson couldn't hold a 6-3 lead. ... This year is the first time that all four division series went the distance, giving baseball fans 20 of a possible 20 games to follow. ... LHP Madison Bumgarner will pitch Game 1 for the Giants, who came back after dropping the first two games of their NLDS against the Reds and won Game 5 of that series on Thursday.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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