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HINGTON -- Last winter, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak was given the unenviable task of constructing a club capable of an encore. He'd have to do it, too, without a legendary manager and without the greatest hitter of the generation.
And so it was understandable that as the defending World Series champions gathered in the clubhouse to celebrate their incredible come-from-behind 9-7 win over the Nationals on Friday, Mozeliak watched with an inerasable grin.
"It was perfect," Mozeliak said of the victory that sent the Cards to the National League Championship Series. "We saw how things were so dramatic last year. And then to see it unfold just like tonight, it's unbelievable. They just never go away. I don't know how else to articulate it. When things look the worst, they just kept chipping away, chipping away."
Mozeliak built this club not just to return to October, but to play through it. His biggest offseason signing, Carlos Beltran, capped a strong NL Division Series with a 3-for-3 night on Friday. His last hit -- a leadoff double in the ninth -- stirred the team's four-run rally.
Mike Matheny, the man Mozeliak chose to follow Tony La Russa, maximized his bullpen in Game 5 and left little opportunity to be second-guessed all series. Mozeliak's lone Trade Deadline pickup, reliever Edward Mujica, was also key in the win, pitching a scoreless inning.
"This is one big step, and we'll see what happens as we enter the next one," Mozeliak said. "But as we said last year, we live for another day. Now we know we're living for four more."
This marked the sixth postseason elimination game the Cardinals have played in the last 13 months. They have now won all six.
"They don't quit," said chief executive officer Bill DeWitt. "You can see the attitude they have. No matter how much we're behind, they keep plugging and charging. It's a great attribute this club has, and it's why we keep winning."
DeWitt, eyeing the clubhouse celebration going on around him as he spoke, was asked if, after a win like the one his team pulled off on Friday, this felt a little bit like last year. He answered without hesitation.
"It sure does," DeWitt said. "Let's hope it ends the same way."