WASHINGTON — Bryce Harper tripled during an early burst, then the Washington teen homered the next time up as Gio Gonzalez and the Nationals took a 6-0 lead over the St. Louis Cardinals after three innings Friday night in the deciding Game 5 of the NL division series.
A night after Jayson Werth capped a 13-pitch at-bat by hitting a winning home run in the ninth inning, the Nationals needed only seven pitches to put the defending World Series champions in big trouble.
Werth led off with a double against Adam Wainwright, Harper tripled and Ryan Zimmerman homered for a 3-0 lead in the first. Harper and Michael Morse chased Wainwright with home runs in the third.
The winner would face the San Francisco Giants on Sunday in Game 1 of the NL championship series, in Washington if the Nationals were to advance and in San Francisco if the wild-card Cardinals could move on.
Werth, who won Game 4 with a ninth-inning shot off reliever Lance Lynn, was greeted with a resounding ovation from the red-clad, towel-waving fans at Nationals Park. He heard the roars again when he lined a double to the left-field corner.
The 19-year-old Harper — 1 for 18 in the series entering the game — followed with a drive to left-center that hit only a foot or two from the top of the wall. Zimmerman then launched a 1-0 pitch to Row 1 in right-center, giving the Nationals a trio of runs before anyone on the home team had made an out.
That was more runs than Washington had scored in the previous two games combined, and it was first time Wainwright had allowed more than one run in any of his 12 career postseason appearances.
Harper left no doubt that he was done with his slump when the All-Star put a 3-2 sinker into the right-center stands to lead off the third. Zimmerman then doubled, and Morse came up two batters later and put Wainwright's final pitch of the night into the visitor's bullpen beyond left field.
Wainwright was gone after 2 1-3 innings, allowing six runs and seven hits. Joe Kelly came on to finish the third.
Both managers stuck with the same lineup for the fifth straight game, and the pitching matchup was a rerun of Game 1, when neither Wainwright nor Gonzalez got in the decision in a 3-2 Nationals victory. St. Louis outscored Washington 23-9 in the first four games, but routs in Games 2 and 3 were countered by one-run losses in Games 1 and 4.
Gonzalez, who topped the majors with 21 regular-season wins, gave up a one-out single to Carlos Beltran in the first inning, but Beltran was left stranded after Matt Holliday chased a trademark Gonzalez curveball in the dirt for a strikeout and Allen Craig flied to center.
David Freese signaled off Gonzalez in the second but was thrown out trying to steal by Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki. Gonzalez struck out two in a 1-2-3 third.
Wainwright, who was a spectator during the Cardinals' title run last fall while he recovered from reconstructive elbow surgery, settled down after the Nationals' initial outburst, striking out Adam LaRoche, Morse and Ian Desmond in a row to end the first. He allowed only a single to Suzuki in a scoreless second, but he couldn't survive the third.
Follow Joseph White on Twitter: http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP