Yet Jackson, somehow, reached back for another slider, one that dove toward the dirt. At 11:16 p.m., Freese swung through it. Exhale, for a minute. There were six outs to go.
With that, the Nationals’ bullpen was in tact. Ever since Drew Storen got healthy after the all-star break, he had either pitched the eighth or ninth, and Tyler Clippard, Storen’s roommate, took the remaining inning. By the start of the postseason, Storen had clearly re-established himself as the closer. So at 11:30 p.m., the bullpen door swung open, and Clippard emerged to pitch the eighth.
How difficult are these outs to get? Clippard got two strikes on Descalso, who then turned on a pitch and deposited it into the Nationals’ bullpen, beyond right field. The solo homer still left six outs on the board, and the lead — so healthy so long ago — was down to 6-5.
“You work your whole life,” Clippard said. “These moments don’t come easy.”
Clippard, though, was an all-star a year ago, and he saved 32 games this season. So he would turn the lead, and the game, over to his roommate. At 11:35 p.m., a pop out. Five outs to go. At 11:39 p.m., a high fastball that pinch hitter Matt Carpenter swung through, a strikeout. Four outs to go. And at 11:42 p.m., a flyball to center, reeled in by Bryce Harper.
Three outs to go.
“I think the last three outs are the hardest in baseball,” Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche said. “I don’t know why it’s so much harder than the other eight innings, but something about it. Crazy stuff happens in the ninth inning.”
Storen’s task was made a hair — just a hair — easier because Kurt Suzuki’s two-out, RBI single in the bottom of the eighth gave the Nationals a 7-5 advantage. The hitters he had to face: Beltran, Holliday, Craig. Power against power.
“Against somebody like Drew, who’s got some of the nastiest stuff in the game, to give up some runs,” LaRoche said, “it just doesn’t happen.”
Beltran, though, opened by blasting a double to center, but his run wasn’t the important one. Holliday’s was, and at 12:02 a.m., he provided a gift, an easy bouncer to third. Two outs to go.
With the largest crowd in Nationals Park history alternating between throaty roars and eerie silence, Storen then reached for one two-strike fastball, and Craig fouled it off. But at 12:06 p.m., Storen turned to his slider. Craig couldn’t touch it.
One out to go.
“I made good pitches,” Storen said. “I wouldn’t change anything.”
It came to Molina, who fouled off a 2-1 pitch. One out to go? One strike to go. He wasted a slider low, and Molina did well to take it. And then came ball four. Freese came to the plate as the go-ahead run.
The ride, it is hard to watch, and can be painful.
“Those are close pitches,” Nationals veteran Chad Tracy said. “They’re taking them to get to the next pitch. They battled.”
Freese fouled a 1-1 pitch straight back, and again Storen needed one strike. Again, a slider. This time, it was Freese who laid off. A fastball then sailed outside. Full count.
“They’re good hitters,” Storen said. “That’s what makes them good: they have quality takes. That’s what makes them successful.”
A pitch later, he lost him. The bases were loaded. The Cardinals pinch ran for Molina with Adron Chambers. And there was still one out to get.
Storen couldn’t get it, not in time at least. Descalso, such an unlikely hero, ripped a pitch up the middle. Washington shortstop Ian Desmond dove, and the ball glanced off his glove. Beltran scored and Chambers came in to tie it. And after Pete Kozma drove in two more, the Nationals’ big lead was a big deficit, 9-7.
The Cardinals allowed Jason Motte, their closer, to hit for himself. At 12:20 p.m., Storen struck him out. It was the 12th out, the out they needed. It came, though, two batters too late.