Nats collapse, season ends with loss to Cards

By Joseph White

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Oct. 13 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Washington Nationals fans look on after Game 5 of the National League division baseball series against the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday, Oct 13, 2012, in Washington. St. Louis won 9-7.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Drew Storen sat at his locker, staring straight ahead. Whatever solo thoughts he had were frequently interrupted by teammates offering hugs, sympathy and encouragement.

Making the rounds in the clubhouse, meanwhile, was part-owner Mark Lerner, son of principal owner Ted Lerner. Mark Lerner patted players on the shoulder and shook their hands. He wiped a tear from his eye as he spoke to slugger Michael Morse.

"Someone just said to me, 'We've learned to win now,'" Lerner said. "And that's no easy task."

The Washington Nationals did indeed bring winning baseball back to the nation's capital at long last. They also collapsed in the postseason in a way that will be tough to forget.

The Nationals' historic season came to an end Friday night with a 9-7 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the NL division series. Washington sported the best record in baseball during the regular season, but the newfangled "Natitude" of a roster flush with young postseason neophytes blew a six-run lead against the experienced club that won the World Series a year ago.

Storen took the mound with a two-run lead in the ninth and gave up four runs, allowing two-run singles to Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma. Storen had two Cardinals batters down to their last strike with two outs, but he walked Yadier Molina and David Freese to keep the inning going.

"We had it right there, and the most disappointing thing I'll say is that I just let these guys down," Storen said. "I know there's an unbelievable crowd and unbelievable support, but for the amount of adversity we dealt with this year, for it to come down to that was kind of tough."

It was the largest comeback ever in a winner-take-all postseason game, according to STATS LLC. No other club in this sort of ultimate pressure situation had come back from more than four runs down.

Storen threw five pitches with two strikes and two outs in the ninth. All were balls.

"I think he just tried to be too fine," manager Davey Johnson said. "He's got a great-moving fastball. Just need to throw it over."

Storen said he had no problems with the umpire's strike zone. The Cardinals were just disciplined at the plate when it counted.

"I made good pitches," he said. "I wouldn't change a thing. I have no regrets."

The Nationals had been let down by their bats in the first four games of the series, scoring only nine runs. But they greeted Adam Wainwright with a double, triple and homer by Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman in the first inning and chased the St. Louis starter with home runs by Harper and Morse in the third.

The Cardinals battled back, cutting into the 6-0 deficit with a run in the fourth, two in the fifth, one in the seventh and one in the eighth. Descalso's solo homer in the eighth off Tyler Clippard made it a one-run game, but the Nationals pulled back ahead by two in the bottom of the inning on Kurt Suzuki's RBI single.

But Storen, who regained the closer's job late in the season after Clippard struggled, couldn't finish the job. The season of Natitude was over, and a Cardinals team that's shown a knack for winning elimination games was moving on.

"They've proven that if there's a team out there to do it, it's going to be them," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "It's a good group of guys over there. I think they got the leg up on us in experience, and now next year we can say we've got a little experience."

Certainly the way the team is built, a winning postseason team shouldn't be far behind.

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