Even after it spent five innings chipping away at Washington's lead, St. Louis still stood a slim chance in the ninth.
But if anything was learned from last year's World Series, it's never to count out the scrappy Cardinals. They evoked memories of last October's Fall Classic with another come-from-behind victory to stave off elimination, this time with a 9-7 triumph in a decisive Game 5 of the National League Division Series on Friday.
The Redbirds became the first team in Major League postseason history to come back from a six-run deficit and win a sudden-death game. No team had come back from more than a four-run deficit in a do-or-die contest.
St. Louis quickly fell into a 6-0 hole in the third inning. At that juncture, Washington had a 96.3 percent chance of advancing to the NL Championship Series, according to FanGraphs.
One frame later, left fielder Matt Holliday got his club on the board with an RBI double. The Cards plated a pair in the fifth to slice the Nationals' advantage to 6-3 and close the book on Washington's 21-game winner, Gio Gonzalez.
Holliday brought home St. Louis' fourth run with a groundout in the seventh, and second baseman Daniel Descalso slugged a solo homer over the right-field fence to close the gap to within one in the eighth.
The Nats tacked on a run in the bottom of the eighth, a once-crucial bit of insurance that appeared to provide Washington with enough breathing room.
Cardinals in do-or-die postseason games
Of course, the Cardinals trailed by that same 7-5 score entering the ninth inning of Game 6 of the World Series against the Rangers last season. In that unforgettable affair, third baseman David Freese delivered a two-out, game-tying triple in the ninth before launching a series-extending homer in the 11th.
This time, patience proved to be the Cards' most virtuous trait. Yadier Molina and Freese drew two-out walks to join Carlos Beltran on the basepaths before Descalso and Pete Kozma socked back-to-back two-run singles to complete the largest elimination-game comeback in postseason history.
St. Louis has now won six consecutive postseason elimination games.
The Cardinals were down to their final strike on five different pitches, but never caved against Nationals closer Drew Storen.
In the 2003 American League Championship Series, the Yankees erased Boston's early 4-0 lead. They had inched to within 5-2 entering the bottom of the eighth, when they tagged Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez for three runs. Three innings later, Aaron Boone smacked a Tim Wakefield knuckleball into the New York night and the Yankees proceeded to the World Series.
This isn't the first elimination-game collapse by a Washington club. In Game 7 of the 1925 World Series, the Senators claimed a 4-0 edge in the first inning before losing to the Pittsburgh Pirates by a familiar 9-7 score.
Zack Meisel is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @zackmeisel. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.