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MLB Notebook: Cards thrive with backs against wall

In the bottom of the third inning in Game 7 of the 1926 World Series, the Yankees' Babe Ruth homered against Jesse Haines to put the Cardinals in a 1-0 hole. St. Louis quickly rallied for three in top of the fourth, and thanks in large part of the relief heroics of Pete Alexander, never again trailed, winning 3-2.

Over the next 41 years, the Cardinals played in five more Game 7s and won each of them. Amazingly -- especially in light of their historic comeback on Friday night in the National League Division Series against the Nationals -- in those five wins from 1931-67, the Cardinals' largest deficit was one run.

In Game 7 of the 1931 World Series, the Redbirds jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first and never trailed. In '34, a seven-run third inning turned out to be more than enough for Dizzy Dean, as he went the distance and St. Louis blanked the Tigers, 11-0. In '64, the Cardinals held a 6-0 lead over the Yankees after five innings and held on to win, 7-5. And in '67, they were up 4-0 on the Red Sox before Bob Gibson -- in a complete-game, 7-2 win -- allowed his first run of the day.

Only in 1946, the year of the famed Mad Dash by Enos Slaughter, did the Cardinals have to work their way back from a deficit in a winner-take-all postseason contest. In that game, Boston got a sacrifice fly from Dom DiMaggio in the top of the first and held on to that lead until the bottom of the second. The Cardinals tied the game in that frame and took a 3-1 lead into the eighth. After the Red Sox tied things up again on a two-run double by DiMaggio, the Redbirds scored the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth on Slaughter's scramble around the basepaths.

National League Division Series: Cardinals vs. Nationals
Down, 6-0, after three innings, and down by two heading into the ninth, the Cardinals went on to defeat the Nationals, 9-7 to win the series in five games. This contest marked the fifth time in postseason history a team had won after being down by at least six runs, and the first since the Red Sox rallied from a seven-run deficit to beat the Rays in Game 5 of the 2008 American League Championship Series.

During the regular season, the Cardinals' largest comeback in a win was five runs. The Nationals' largest blown lead was nine runs.

The Cards will be playing in their second consecutive League Championship Series and 11th overall. In addition to their appearance in 2011, they also went to the NLCS in 1982, '85, '87, '96, 2000, '02, '04, '05, and '06.

The Cardinals improved to 14-5 in winner-take-all postseason games and 6-0 in their past six. The streak of six consecutive victories is tied for the longest for any team. In this six-game winning streak, the Cardinals have defeated the Astros (2004), Mets ('06), Phillies ('11), Rangers ('11), Braves ('12) and Nationals ('12).

• Starting with a win in Game 7 of the 1926 World Series and concluding with a Game 7 victory in the '67 World Series, the Cardinals of an earlier generation also won six in a row.

• Three other franchises have claimed wins in four consecutive winner-take-all contests: the Pirates (1909-71), Athletics (1972-73) and Dodgers (1965-88).

Carlos Beltran went 3-for-3, doubled twice, scored twice and walked twice Friday.

• Beltran was the third Cardinals player to reach base safely five times in a postseason game. Lou Brock was 4-for-4 with a walk in Game 1 of the 1967 World Series, and Albert Pujols was 5-for-6 in his three-homer performance in Game 3 of the 2011 Fall Classic.

• Beltran upped his career slash line in the postseason to .375/.488/.817 in 28 games. Beltran has 20 extra-base hits (seven doubles and 13 home runs) in these 28 contests. The 20 extra-base hits through a player's first 28 postseason games are the second most in history (Nelson Cruz had 21), while the 13 homers are the most.

Nationals rookie Bryce Harper (19 years, 362 days) went 2-for-5 with a triple and a home run Friday. Harper became:

• The youngest player to hit a triple in a postseason game.

• The third-youngest player to hit a postseason home run, after Andruw Jones (19 years and 177 days in Game 7 of the 1996 NLCS; 19 years and 180 days in Game 1 of the '96 World Series).

• The second-youngest player, after Jones (19 years and 180 days), to have two extra-base hits in a postseason game.

American League Division Series: Orioles vs. Yankees

CC Sabathia went the distance on a four-hitter and the Yankees defeated the Orioles, 3-1, to clinch the AL Division Series.

• Sabathia was the third Yankees pitcher to throw a complete game in a winner-take-all contest. In Game 7 of the 1956 World Series, Johnny Kucks threw a three-hit shutout to beat the Dodgers, and in Game 7 of the '62 World Series, Ralph Terry tossed a four-hit shutout as New York defeated San Francisco, 1-0.

Going the distance
Pitchers who tossed complete games and allowed four hits or fewer in winner-take-all postseason games.
Pitcher Team Game Hits
Johnny Kucks Yankees 1956 WS, G7 3
Ralph Terry Yankees 1962 WS, G7 4
Sandy Koufax Dodgers 1965 WS, G7 3
Bob Gibson Cardinals 1967 WS, G7 3
Steve Blass Pirates 1971 WS, G7 4
Chris Carpenter Cardinals 2011 NLDS, G5 3
Justin Verlander Tigers 2012 ALDS, G5 4
CC Sabathia Yankees 2012 ALDS, G5 4
• Sabathia was the first Yankees pitcher to throw a complete game in the postseason since Roger Clemens threw a one-shutout with 15 K's in Game 4 of the 2000 ALCS.

• Sabathia is the eighth pitcher to throw a complete game and allow no more than four hits in a postseason winner-take-all contest.

The Yankees won their first winner-take-all postseason contest since Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, snapping a three-game losing streak (losses in Game 7 of the '04 ALCS, Game 5 of the '05 ALDS and Game 5 of the '11 ALDS). This win brought New York's all-time record in winner-take-all contests to 12-11.

The Yankees outscored the Orioles, 16-10, in the series, with the 26 combined runs the fewest in history for a five-game ALDS.

Carlos Beltran, Bryce Harper, CC Sabathia