Euphoric after rally, Cardinals believed all along

Euphoric after rally, Cardinals believed all along

Euphoric after rally, Cardinals believed all along
WASHINGTON -- Needless to say, it was not Jason Motte's finest at-bat.

Motte, the Cardinals' closer who was drafted as a catcher in 2003 before converting to a pitcher in 2006, was called on to hit in the top of the ninth Friday after a stunning turn of events in Game 5 of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park.

His spot in the order was due up eighth in the frame, if it was to come to that, as the Cards came to bat trailing by two against the Nationals and closer Drew Storen. Then five of those St. Louis hitters reached base, and four scored.

Wild Card vs. Nationals

Before Motte knew it, the Redbirds had gone from grasping at a comeback to grasping each others' jerseys in euphoria after they -- namely Nos. 7 and 8 hitters Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma, each delivering two-run hits in the ninth -- completed the largest comeback in any winner-take-all postseason game for a 9-7 victory.

"Being in the dugout, I'm like, 'These guys are insane,'" Motte said. "I don't even know. Pete got that hit, and I was running around like, 'Am I hitting? What's going on?' They were like, 'Grab a bat.' So I didn't have time to think about anything. I just went up there and took a couple hacks.

"From then on, it was like, 'You know what? Same thing as before.'"

Indeed it was. After Motte struck out in the top of the ninth, he retired the Nationals in order in the bottom of the frame. And the Cardinals, defending World Series champions, were celebrating another clincher.

"When I hit the tie, I was on first base, all fired up," Descalso said. "And I looked over at the dugout and the guys were going crazy and I got even more fired up out there. When Pete got that big knock to put us ahead, it was chaos in there. That's an awesome feeling, to share that moment with these guys after coming back."

Washington hammered St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright for six runs in the first three innings before the Cards' comeback effort commenced. They tacked on one in the fourth, two in the fifth and one in the seventh before capping it with four in the ninth against Storen.

Five times, Storen was one out away from retiring the Redbirds and sending the Nationals -- who had won the NL East, earned the top record in baseball and brought the playoffs to Washington for the first time since 1933 -- on to the NLCS against the Giants.

But the Cardinals, who won four elimination games en route to an improbable 11th World Series title last year and two more already this October, could not be put down.

"When [the Nationals] were able to score all those runs early in the ballgame, as a team, we feel we have a good lineup," said right fielder Carlos Beltran, who reached safely in all five plate appearances Friday (3-for-3 with two doubles and two walks). "So we were able to put [together] good at-bats and get them one by one."

Said Motte: "They don't give up. They go out there and battle every single pitch until the last pitch is made. And they proved that again tonight."

Motte, who debuted with St. Louis in 2008, really experienced it for the first time during the Cards' epic run last season. But rookies like Joe Kelly, who threw 1 2/3 valuable innings of scoreless ball to keep the game within reach, had never really lived it.

Until Friday.

"I got here as a rookie this year, and I've never felt so welcome and as part of a team as we have here," Kelly said. "We're so close-knit and nobody ever quits. We were down six runs and Chris Carpenter's saying, 'We're going to win this ballgame.' [Manager Mike Matheny's] going, 'We're going to win this ballgame. Just believe.' We have the talent. Of course we have the talent."

Joey Nowak is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joeynowak. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.