WASHINGTON -- The St. Louis Cardinals had been here before.
Last year, the Cardinals twice were one strike from elimination in the World Series and hung on to win Game 6, then won Game 7 the following night. They found themselves in the same position again Friday -- and once more got the same shocking results.
Pete Kozma's two-run single with two outs capped a four-run rally in the top of the ninth inning as the Cardinals came back from a six-run deficit to stun the Washington Nationals 9-7 in the decisive Game 5 of their National League Division Series.
The Cardinals won the series, three games to two, and advanced to the National League Championship Series against San Francisco. The best-of-seven series will begin Sunday at San Francisco.
"They believe in themselves," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. "You can't say enough about the experience they have had in the past, too, where they have had their back up against the wall and they realize that no matter what is being said out there, no matter how many people count them out, they control their destiny."
Washington closer Drew Storen had five chances to end it. The right-hander had two outs and a 2-2 count on Yadier Molina and walked him. Then came a 1-2 count on David Freese, one of the heroes of last year's World Series, and he walked him, too.
Daniel Descalso then ripped a shot off the glove of shortstop Ian Desmond and into short center, scoring two runs to tie the game. Kozma followed with his two-run hit.
"I was looking a good fastball to hit. He gave it to me," Kozma said. "They were up early, and there's a lot of ballgame left, and we never give up."
Molina said they understood the pressure of being down to the last strike.
"We've got confidence in ourselves," Molina said. "We never quit. That's our rule. We can be down 7-0, 8-0, we're going to play hard. (We've) been in this position last year. You know the game. You've got to make 27 outs."
There didn't seem like any kind of big rally was coming early when the Nationals made short work of St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright, jumping on him in the bottom of the first.
Jayson Werth, who won Thursday's Game 4 with his ninth-inning homer, doubled to start the first. Bryce Harper followed with a run-scoring triple that banged off the wall in deep center. Zimmerman then came up and blasted a 1-0 pitch into the center-field seats for a two-run homer and a 3-0 Washington lead.
Wainwright quickly recovered to strike out the next three hitters but the damage was done.
Harper struck again when he led off the third with a solo home run to right for a 4-0 lead. Zimmerman followed with a double, and he scored when Morse homered into the left-field bullpen to make it 6-0 and ended Wainwright's night.
The Cardinals scored in the fourth when Matt Holliday doubled in Carlos Beltran, who walked to start the inning. That made it 6-1, but Gonzalez settled down to retire the next three batters and got out of trouble.
St. Louis struck again in the fifth thanks to control problems from Gonzalez. The Cards got two hits, but Gonzalez labored through a 36-pitch inning to walk three -- one with the bases loaded -- and threw a wild pitch with the bases loaded to give St. Louis two runs and cut Washington's lead to 6-3.
Manager Davey Johnson pulled Gonzalez after the fifth, but the bullpen struggled, giving up six runs over the final four innings as the Washington pitchers combined to give up eight walks.
"It was a great year," Johnson said. "You just can't win big ballgames by giving free passes. You know, (you've) got to make 'em earn it, and unfortunately they did."
NOTES: Jayson Werth's 13-pitch at-bat on Thursday was equal to the longest of his career. He did have a 12-pitch at-bat while with the Phillies -- and ended that one by hitting a home run off Oliver Perez of the Mets on Aug. 23, 2009. ... Ryan Zimmerman's home run in the first inning was the second of the series and career. This was the first time the third baseman had been in the playoffs. ... Wainwright gave up three extra-base hits -- double, triple and homer -- plus three runs before getting his first out in the bottom of the first inning. He gave up six extra-base hits in just 2 2/3 innings as the quiet Nationals' bats came alive.