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Cardinals stun Nationals with ninth-inning comeback, advance to play Giants in NLCS

Oct. 13, 2012

It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.

Just ask the Washington Nationals. Leading 7-5 with two outs in the ninth Friday night, the Nats could not close the door on the defending world champion St. Louis Cardinals. Instead, the never-say-die Redbirds scored four runs, battling back from their last strike on two different occasions for a 9-7 road win in Game 5 of the National League Division Series.

The win marked the Cardinals' sixth consecutive post-season elimination game victory, beginning with Game 4 of the 2011 NLDS series with the Philadelphia Phillies. Fans of rodents on the diamond will recall how a gray squirrel ran into the batter’s box at Busch Stadium in St. Louis as Cardinal hitter Skip Schumaker awaited a pitch from Phillies’ pitcher Roy Oswalt. The Cardinals have not lost an elimination game since then.

The Nats roughed up St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright early, tagging him for six runs in less than three innings. The Nats led 6-0 in the fourth when the Cardinals managed to push across a single run before adding a pair in the fifth and additional single runs in the sixth and eighth innings. Washington scored what is commonly referred to as an “insurance run” in their half of the eighth, but it wasn’t enough insurance. The Cardinals' four-run ninth capped what WTBS announcers said was the biggest do-or-die game comeback in Major League Baseball history.

The Cardinals now move on to face the Western Division champions San Francisco Giants in the National League Championship Series, which begins Sunday in San Francisco. The Giants are riding a comeback of their own after being down two games to none against the Cincinnati Reds in their NLDS, only to win the final three games on the road.

The Giants-Cardinals matchup marks the first time that the two most recent World Series champions will meet in a League Championship Series to see who advances to the Fall Classic. The Giants beat the Texas Rangers four games to one in the 2010 World Series, and the Cardinals beat the Rangers four games to three last year.

Four teams remain in the chase for the 2012 World Series: The Cardinals and Giants in the NL and the Yankees and Tigers in the American League.

Because of the National League’s victory in the 2012 All-Star Game, the NL will have home field advantage in the World Series. If the Cardinals make it past the Giants, they would, ironically, owe home-field advantage to the managing prowess of Tony La Russa, who retired after leading the Cards to a championship this year but came out of retirement to manage the NL All-Stars to an 8-0 victory over the AL squad.

As in 2011, the Cardinals were the Wild Card team. And as in 2011, when they won 11 post-season games to secure their 11th World Series championship, 2012 presents the Cardinals with another unique numerical opportunity. This season, there were two Wild Card teams in each league, meaning the Cardinals will have to win 12 post-season games in 2012 to claim the franchise’s 12th championship. Just as the rallying cry in 2011 was “11 in 11,” Cardinal fans are now picking up on the slogan “12 in 12.”

If a stray squirrel finds its way onto the field during the Giants-Cardinals series, we’ll know it’s meant to be.

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