Cards get toughest at-bats from unlikely sources
Light-hitting infielders Descalso, Kozma chip in critical knocks in Game 5 win
WASHINGTON -- There were times earlier Friday when the Cardinals' big bats, guys like Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina, came to the plate with a chance to do some real damage. Didn't happen. That's baseball.
So wouldn't you know? With St. Louis once again down to its last out, it was the middle infielders who bat at the bottom of the order, and are primarily known for their defense, who got the two big knocks in the ninth against Washington closer Drew Storen and lifted the unsinkable Cards to an improbable 9-7 win in decisive Game 5 of the National League Division Series.
Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma, take your star turn.
Maybe it shouldn't really have been a surprise, though. Descalso and Kozma both made key contributions to help the Cardinals advance to the NL Championship Series against the Giants.
"Obviously, they're the unsung heroes, but I think they're going to be recognized given the success they had here," said general manager John Mozeliak. "You look at what Descalso and Kozma did, every time you thought you needed something, they came through. It's a compliment to what we've done here, to try to create depth in our organization, depth in our lineup. And as you can tell, contributions come from anywhere. You never know on a given day where you're going to get it. But clearly, in this series, the seventh, eighth and ninth hitters produced."
Veteran Carlos Beltran got it started with a leadoff double against Storen, but two outs later, he was still at third base and the Cards still trailed by two runs. Storen got two strikes on Yadier Molina ... and walked him. Got two strikes on David Freese ... and walked him to load the bases.
That brought up Descalso, and a deathly quiet fell over the largest crowd ever at Nationals Park.
"We had the bases loaded, and I knew he wanted to come right after me," Descalso said. "I was just ready for the heater first pitch, and I wasn't going to be late."
Descalso got what he was looking for and ripped a shot that caromed off Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond and rolled into shallow center field as two runs crossed the plate to tie the score.
And the Cardinals weren't finished. Kozma's single to right gave St. Louis both the lead and an insurance run.
"I was looking for something to hit," Kozma said. "He gave me something the pitch before that, but I couldn't pull the trigger. I don't think I was ready. The last one he threw me was another fastball, and I just put it in play."
And with that, the Cards added another chapter to their growing legend as a team that just refuses to lose.
"When I got the hit to tie the score, I was on first base, all fired up," Descalso said. "And I looked over at the dugout and the guys were going crazy, and I got fired up even more out there. And when Pete got the big knock that put us ahead, it was chaos in there. I mean, that's an awesome feeling. We've just got a bunch of ballplayers. Guys who never quit. We battled back and gave ourselves a chance."
Kozma said the Cardinals never panicked after falling behind, 6-0.
"Nobody went up there trying to hit a six-run homer," he said. "We needed to scratch and claw, get ourselves back in the game, get ourselves back within striking distance and get some big at-bats down the stretch."
Each side normally gets 27 outs in a game. The Cards have demonstrated, once again, that they're not done until the other team gets each and every one in the books.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.