Nationals’ season comes crashing down

Washington gives up four in 9th, loses 9-7 to Cardinals

  • Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (11), right, walks off the field as the St. Louis Cardinals celebrate their win over the Washington Nationals in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Saturday, October 13, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (11), right, walks off the field as the St. Louis Cardinals celebrate their win over the Washington Nationals in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Saturday, October 13, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • A fan walks though centerfield plaza with an enlarged poster head of starting Nats pitcher Gio Gonzalez before Gamee 5 of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park, Thursday, October 11, 2012. (Craig Bisacre/The Washington Times)A fan walks though centerfield plaza with an enlarged poster head of starting Nats pitcher Gio Gonzalez before Gamee 5 of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park, Thursday, October 11, 2012. (Craig Bisacre/The Washington Times)
  • Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, throws out the first pitch before Game 5 of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park, Friday, October 12, 2012. (Preston Keres/Special to The Washington Times)Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, throws out the first pitch before Game 5 of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park, Friday, October 12, 2012. (Preston Keres/Special to The Washington Times)
  • Fans wave their rally towels before Game 5 of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park, Thursday, October 11, 2012. (Craig Bisacre/The Washington Times)Fans wave their rally towels before Game 5 of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park, Thursday, October 11, 2012. (Craig Bisacre/The Washington Times)
  • Washington Nationals starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez (47) starts Game 5 of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park, Friday, October 12, 2012. Gonzalez would pitch five innings, giving up 3 earned runs.(Preston Keres/Special to The Washington Times)Washington Nationals starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez (47) starts Game 5 of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park, Friday, October 12, 2012. Gonzalez would pitch five innings, giving up 3 earned runs.(Preston Keres/Special to The Washington Times)
  • Washington Nationals center fielder Bryce Harper (34) rounds second before safely siding into third in the first inning in Game 5 of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park, Thursday, October 11, 2012. (Craig Bisacre/The Washington Times)Washington Nationals center fielder Bryce Harper (34) rounds second before safely siding into third in the first inning in Game 5 of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park, Thursday, October 11, 2012. (Craig Bisacre/The Washington Times)
  • Washington Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond (20), left, celebrates as Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (11) hits a two run homer to bring Washington Nationals center fielder Bryce Harper (34), right, home in the first inning to put the Washington Nationals up 3-0  against the St. Louis Cardinals in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Friday, October 12, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)Washington Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond (20), left, celebrates as Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (11) hits a two run homer to bring Washington Nationals center fielder Bryce Harper (34), right, home in the first inning to put the Washington Nationals up 3-0 against the St. Louis Cardinals in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Friday, October 12, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • Washington Nationals center fielder Bryce Harper (34) hits a solo home run in the bottom of the third inning to put the Washington Nationals up 4-0  over the St. Louis Cardinals in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Friday, October 12, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)Washington Nationals center fielder Bryce Harper (34) hits a solo home run in the bottom of the third inning to put the Washington Nationals up 4-0 over the St. Louis Cardinals in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Friday, October 12, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • Washington Nationals left fielder Michael Morse (38) its a two run homer to left center in the bottom of the third inning to put the Washington Nationals up 6-0 over the St. Louis Cardinals in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Friday, October 12, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)Washington Nationals left fielder Michael Morse (38) its a two run homer to left center in the bottom of the third inning to put the Washington Nationals up 6-0 over the St. Louis Cardinals in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Friday, October 12, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • Washington Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki (24) gets St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma (38) out at home on a fielders choice in at the top of the fifth inning as the Washington Nationals play the St. Louis Cardinals in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Friday, October 12, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)Washington Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki (24) gets St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma (38) out at home on a fielders choice in at the top of the fifth inning as the Washington Nationals play the St. Louis Cardinals in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Friday, October 12, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • Washington Nationals starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez (47) is pulled after the fifth inning after giving up 3 runs as the Washington Nationals play the St. Louis Cardinals in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Friday, October 12, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)Washington Nationals starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez (47) is pulled after the fifth inning after giving up 3 runs as the Washington Nationals play the St. Louis Cardinals in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Friday, October 12, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • The Nationals celebrate an RBI single by Kurt Suzuki that gave the team a 7-5 lead in the bottom of the 8th inning that Game 5 of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park, Friday, October 12, 2012. (Preston Keres/Special to The Washington Times)The Nationals celebrate an RBI single by Kurt Suzuki that gave the team a 7-5 lead in the bottom of the 8th inning that Game 5 of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park, Friday, October 12, 2012. (Preston Keres/Special to The Washington Times)
  • Washington Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond (20) chases a two-run single by St. Louis Cardinals Daniel Descalso in the top of the 9th inning that tied the game 7-7 in Game 5 of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park, Friday, October 12, 2012. (Preston Keres/Special to The Washington Times)Washington Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond (20) chases a two-run single by St. Louis CardinalsDaniel Descalso in the top of the 9th inning that tied the game 7-7 in Game 5 of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park, Friday, October 12, 2012. (Preston Keres/Special to The Washington Times)
  • St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Daniel Descalso (33) drives in two run after hitting a hard single to center to tie the game 7-7 as the Washington Nationals play the St. Louis Cardinals in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Saturday, October 13, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Daniel Descalso (33) drives in two run after hitting a hard single to center to tie the game 7-7 as the Washington Nationals play the St. Louis Cardinals in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Saturday, October 13, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • Washington Nationals closer Drew Storen (22) shows his frustration after giving up four runs in the top of the 9th to relinquish the lead to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park, Friday, October 12, 2012. (Preston Keres/Special to The Washington Times)Washington Nationals closer Drew Storen (22) shows his frustration after giving up four runs in the top of the 9th to relinquish the lead to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park, Friday, October 12, 2012. (Preston Keres/Special to The Washington Times)
  • St. Louis Cardinals third baseman David Freese (23) celebrates with Jon Jay (19) after scoring in the top of the 9th inning, giving his team a 9-7 lead in Game 5 of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park, Friday, October 12, 2012. (Preston Keres/Special to The Washington Times)St. Louis Cardinals third baseman David Freese (23) celebrates with Jon Jay (19) after scoring in the top of the 9th inning, giving his team a 9-7 lead in Game 5 of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park, Friday, October 12, 2012. (Preston Keres/Special to The Washington Times)
  • Washington Nationals relief pitcher Drew Storen (22) sits on the bench in the bottom of the ninth inning after giving up four runs to put the St. Louis Cardinals up 9-7 over the Washington Nationals in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Saturday, October 13, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)Washington Nationals relief pitcher Drew Storen (22) sits on the bench in the bottom of the ninth inning after giving up four runs to put the St. Louis Cardinals up 9-7 over the Washington Nationals in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Saturday, October 13, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Daniel Descalso (33) celebrates after catching a pop up for the final out of the game as the Washington Nationals lose to the St. Louis Cardinals 9-7 in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Saturday, October 13, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Daniel Descalso (33) celebrates after catching a pop up for the final out of the game as the Washington Nationals lose to the St. Louis Cardinals 9-7 in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Saturday, October 13, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • Washington Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki (24) and Bryce Harper (34) head to the clubhouse after Game 5 of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park, Friday, October 12, 2012. (Preston Keres/Special to The Washington Times)Washington Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki (24) and Bryce Harper (34) head to the clubhouse after Game 5 of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park, Friday, October 12, 2012. (Preston Keres/Special to The Washington Times)
  • Washington Nationals fans watch as the Washington Nationals lose to the St. Louis Cardinals 9-7 in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Saturday, October 13, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)Washington Nationals fans watch as the Washington Nationals lose to the St. Louis Cardinals 9-7 in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Saturday, October 13, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • (L to R) Paul Hefner, 16, and Isabel Hefner, 18, from Great Falls, Va., sit dejected in the stands after the Washington Nationals loss to the St. Louis Cardinals 9-7 in Game 5 of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Friday, October 12, 2012. (Preston Keres/Special to The Washington Times)(L to R) Paul Hefner, 16, and Isabel Hefner, 18, from Great Falls, Va., sit dejected in the stands after the Washington Nationals loss to the St. Louis Cardinals 9-7 in Game 5 of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Friday, October 12, 2012. (Preston Keres/Special to The Washington Times)
  • Washington Nationals center fielder Bryce Harper (34), left, and right fielder Jayson Werth (28), right, watch as the St. Louis Cardinals celebrate their win over the Washington Nationals in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Saturday, October 13, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)Washington Nationals center fielder Bryce Harper (34), left, and right fielder Jayson Werth (28), right, watch as the St. Louis Cardinals celebrate their win over the Washington Nationals in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Saturday, October 13, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • A fan covers his face as the Washington Nationals lose to the St. Louis Cardinals 9-7 in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Saturday, October 13, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)A fan covers his face as the Washington Nationals lose to the St. Louis Cardinals 9-7 in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Saturday, October 13, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)

In the end, there was nothing but silence to greet them.

The blue carpet meant to soak up champagne was still there, but the furniture that’d been moved out of the center of the clubhouse was put back. The plastic sheets hung to protect the contents of lockers from getting soaked were rolled up or torn off. The only sound was the slapping of hands on backs as they gave one another hugs, both conciliatory and goodbye.

The haste with which the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse went from celebratory to somber at the close of Game 5 of the National League Division Series was evident. The haste with which their season ended was more difficult to process.

They stood on the precipice. One out away. One strike away. One iota away from a ticket into the National League Championship Series.

They led the St. Louis Cardinals by six, then by five, then three. As Drew Storen took the mound in the ninth inning, their lead was two. When he descended it, the Nationals were three outs from the 9-7 loss they tried to absorb inside the bowels of the stadium as Friday turned to Saturday.

(L to R) Paul Hefner, 16, and Isabel Hefner, 18, from Great Falls, Va., sit dejected in the stands after the Washington Nationals loss to the St. Louis Cardinals 9-7 in Game 5 of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Friday, October 12, 2012. (Preston Keres/Special to The Washington Times)

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(L to R) Paul Hefner, 16, and Isabel Hefner, 18, from Great ... more >

“Seven, eight months worth of hard work goes away in one inning like that,” said first baseman Adam LaRoche, his tone soft and his eyes searching. “I don’t know what to tell you. It’s frustrating. This is going to sting. It’s going to sting until next year.”

Fans, 45,966 of them, bundled in winter coats and hats flung red towels around above their heads and showered their team with cheers as the ninth inning began. The clock struck midnight on the scoreboard as Storen watched Carlos Beltran’s leadoff double bang off the right center field wall. He stood on third through two excruciating outs, and two excruciating walks.

The Cardinals boast perhaps one of the best lineups in baseball through their first six batters. But in a series in which the Nationals played little like the team they were over a 98-win season, it was St. Louis’ No. 7 and No. 8 hitters who did the most damage. It was Daniel Descalso who was 6-for-19 with two home runs and Pete Kozma who reached base nine times in 21 plate appearances. Friday night Descalso tied the game. Kozma won it.

Game 1 of the National League Championship Series will begin Sunday night at AT&T Park in San Francisco. The Nationals won’t be a part of it.

“There’s always going to be a winner and a loser,” said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. “Unfortunately, everyone can’t win and it’s always tough for the team that loses. But we have nothing to be ashamed of.”

There was nothing they could point to as the moment it all went wrong. Storen’s pitches were close, but not strikes. Their offense was big, but not enough.

“In this game, there’s nothing that’s an accident,” said shortstop Ian Desmond, Descalso’s hit just out of his diving reach. “There’s a plan for everything. This is the way I guess it was supposed to end up. … It happened for a reason. Learn from it. Let’s use it as a tool to get better.”

Washington, D.C.’s re-introduction to playoff baseball wasn’t easy. The gut-wrenching torture that comes with each pitch carrying so much weight took its toll on the region’s nerves the past few nights. But nothing came close to the heartbreak that the silent stadium emoted as they went from the brink of delirium to the depths of disdain.

The Nationals kept their park rocking until deep into the night on Thursday, Jayson Werth’s walk-off home run giving them at least one more day and the swagger to believe it would almost certainly be more. The Giants were a match-up they liked. A match-up they craved. If they could get there, they felt, they might just get all the way there.

The offense that had been maligned and missing for much of the series tried to send them there early. They put up six runs on Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright in the first 2 1/3 innings. Werth doubled. Bryce Harper tripled and homered. Zimmerman doubled and homered. Michael Morse homered.

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