After the Nationals took an early 6-0 lead over the Cardinals through three innings, Game 5 had all the makings of a laugher. It was anything but.
The Cardinals chipped away throughout and scored four runs in the top of the ninth inning to complete a stunning comeback, topping the Nationals 9-7 for the right to face the Giants in the NLCS.
The Cardinals scored one in the fourth, two in the fifth, one in the seventh and one in the eighth before getting to Drew Storen in the ninth. Daniel Descalso, who homered in the eighth, singled off Ian Desmond’s glove to drive home two runs to tie the game before Pete Kozma put the Cardinals ahead with a two-run double into right field. Jason Motte retired the Nationals in order in the bottom of the ninth to finish off the shocking victory.
The comeback wasn’t just stunning, it was also historic. This was the biggest comeback ever in an elimination game. The Yankees previously came back from four runs down against the Red Sox in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS while the Pirates came back from four runs down against the Senators in Game 7 of the 1925 World Series. Yes, the Nationals now share some dubious history with the Senators.
The Cardinals will now move on to the National League Championship series, which will begin Sunday night in San Francisco.
The Yankees and Astros are set for Game 7 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday, and neither team will hold back as they seek a World Series berth. The Astros are prepared to back starter Charlie Morton with any able-bodied pitcher in their ranks — including Justin Verlander, though A.J. Hinch said it would be a “dream scenario” to get anything more from his ace — while the Yankees are prepared to utilize all but a few of their arms. One pitcher you won’t see? Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, who last took the hill for the Yankees during their Game 5 shutout on Wednesday.
Tanaka expended 103 pitches over seven scoreless innings in his last start, fending off the Astros with three hits, a walk and eight strikeouts. He hasn’t pitched on fewer than three days of rest all year, and even with a do-or-die scenario facing the Yankees on Saturday night, manager Joe Girardi doesn’t want to compromise his starter’s ability to stay rested and ready for the World Series.
Girardi will also play it safe with fellow right-hander Sonny Gray, who dominated in a five-inning performance in Game 4. All other pitchers should be available and ready to go, though the club is hoping for a lengthy outing from veteran starter CC Sabathia. Sabathia is no stranger to the postseason: over eight separate playoff runs, he touts one championship title and a collective 4.24 ERA in 123 innings. He held the Astros scoreless in his Game 3 start, blanking them over six innings on three hits, four walks and five strikeouts for an eventual 8-1 win.
Even without Tanaka or Gray likely to take the mound for Game 7, the Yankees will enter the series finale with history on their side. Per MLB.com, they have a 4-3 road record in Game 7s and are 6-7 in all 13 Game 7 finales to date. The Astros, on the other hand, dropped their first and only Game 7 clincher back in 2004, when the Cardinals capped the NLCS with a 5-2 win in St. Louis. The teams are scheduled to face off for the first-ever Game 7 at Minute Maid Park on Saturday at 8:00 PM ET.