Postseason highlight and heartache: 2012 Washington Nationals

— -- After losing Game 5 of the 2012 National League Division Series, Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo walked into a scene he will never forget.

"It was dead silence in the clubhouse," Rizzo said. "I remember saying, 'Remember how you feel at this exact moment, and let's work hard so we never feel this way again.'"

Rizzo had been in the Arizona Diamondbacks' front office in 2001 when they won the World Series, so he had been through the postseason process before: the buildup, the stress and the pressure that goes with expectations to win it all. But his young team -- and a team that just moved to town in 2005 and had back-to-back 100-loss seasons in 2008-09 -- had never experienced the added outliers of the postseason.

"We had high expectations for ourselves that year," Rizzo said. "I thought we had the talent to progress forward. We thought in '12 we had the roster to win the World Series."

The first step in 2012 for this young and talented team -- one with the most wins (98) in the majors that season -- to win their first championship since the franchise began play in Montreal in 1969 was to beat the reigning World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Division Series.

Highlight: Jayson Werth's Game 4 ninth-inning homer

Michael Morse (Nationals outfielder, 2009-12): "The craziest thing about that series was we played the Cardinals in the last week of the regular season. I remember playing left field and the fans were just yelling, 'We'll see you next week.' They weren't even in yet. We were in. We clinched early. They were still battling to get into the postseason, but the fans were like, 'We'll see you there.' I remember saying to myself, man, these guys are hot right now."

Mike Matheny (Cardinals manager, 2012-present): "To get there, we had to sneak in with the wild card. That was a great challenge for our club."

The Cardinals were 12-4 in their last 16 games and beat the Braves 6-3 in the wild-card game.

Michael Morse: "They were playing so good. We kind of weren't taking it seriously. We clinched, we were ready to go. I remember telling Jayson Werth at the time, 'Man, we don't want to see these guys.' Well, it just so happens that they got in and we're playing them in the NLDS. They were like that one team we didn't really want to face at the time, because they were so hot."

Mike Matheny: "I feel like our club was really optimistic, but not underestimating what a great team they put together over in Washington. We knew we were going to have our hands full."

The Nationals struck first, winning Game 1. The Cardinals pounded the Nats in Game 2, hitting four homers and winning 12-4. The series was headed back to Washington tied at 1-1.

Michael Morse: "The whole year, it was just a special year, because a lot of guys were young at the time. It was almost like we were a horse running in the Kentucky Derby with our blinders on. We knew we were good, but we never stopped to think about it. We knew we wanted to win, but going into the postseason was new to the Nationals."

Mike Rizzo (Nationals GM, 2009-present): "We had a lot of inexperienced players. It was kind of our foray into impact pressure games."

In Game 3, Chris Carpenter went 5? innings -- and even went 2-for-3 at the plate, as the Cardinals would cruise to an 8-0 win in Game 3 and a 2-1 series lead. Game 4 became do-or-die for the Nationals with Ross Detwiler on the mound. Detwiler was 10-8 in 2012, but gave up seven runs (three earned) in 2? innings in his only appearance against the Cards that season.?But in Game 4, Detwiler was amazing, giving up only one run in six innings before giving way to a bullpen that didn't allow a hit in the next three innings. With the game tied at 1-1 in the bottom of the ninth, Cardinals reliever Lance Lynn?entered the game. The first batter he faced was Jayson Werth. It would be the only batter Lynn faced -- for 13 pitches.

Mike Matheny: "You realize that there are some guys who just kind of have that toughness to them, and Lance is one of those guys. You put him into a big situation and you turn up the heat a little bit, and he finds another gear. Lance has proven that to us and deserved that opportunity."

Lance Lynn (Cardinals reliever, 2011-15): "I remember it being a long at-bat, that's for sure, and then him winning it at the end. But it was a good at-bat on his part. I think there was one pitch that was a breaking ball that was close, and I thought I had him. I didn't get the call. He was able to make a good swing later in the at-bat and ended up winning the game. It was a fun at-bat until the end."

Zach Duke (Nationals reliever, 2012-13): "I was in the dugout. It was just such an amazing feeling when Jayson hit it, because we still had life. Man, I still remember the visual in my head. As soon as he hit it, he turns the bat toward us and we just erupted."

Michael Morse: "With the Cardinals, their pitching is so dominating, and that season they were so good. It was tough to score runs off of them."

Chris Carpenter (Cardinals pitcher, 2004-12): "I think you take it in and move on from it."

Michael Morse: "It was huge for a guy coming in to playing in D.C. with this big contract, with these big expectations. [Jayson] didn't get off to a great start in D.C. That was huge for us, that was a momentum shifter."

Zach Duke: "We had the celebration at home plate, but we all went right back into the clubhouse and focused on the next one."

Heartache: Game 5 loss after leading 6-0

Adam Wainwright (Cardinals starting pitcher, 2005-present): "I was sitting in the dugout [for Game 4]. I knew I had it covered. I thought I was for sure going to win [Game 5] anyways, so it didn't matter to me. Luckily, the team did a better job of making that come true than I did. By the way, I pitched a good Game 1. You skipped Game 1. I struck out 10 guys in Game 1 and nobody ever talks about that."

Michael Morse: "Game 1, Wainwright dominated. He had a sinker working and he was really keeping us off balance. He dominated. The biggest thing we did as a team when we knew we were going to face him again in that Game 5, instead of going up there with the same kind of approach, we kind of knew what he was going to do to us. Instead of saying, you know what, I'm going to lay off of stuff and I'm just going to look for my pitch over the zone, we kind of did the opposite role. We said, 'I'm going to look for that inside fastball, that inside sinker, and I'm going to get it because he is going to throw it, and I'm going to hit it.' I think as a team we all kind of adjusted to him."

Adjust they did. The Nationals knocked Wainwright out of the game after 2? innings and had a 6-0 lead after three.

Mike Matheny: "It's always hard. We had a pretty significant rope that we gave him. It was six runs. We tried to let him pitch his way through it to keep us in the game, he's our ace. But you could see that was heading in the direction that was almost beyond repair at that point. We had to try and do something else."

Adam Wainwright: "The first thing I did is I looked at our position players on the infield and I said, 'Boys, pick me up.' They said, 'We got it.' It was a sense that they didn't just say it to say it, they knew it. They knew that I was saying, you're going to have to do it on your own today because I didn't do it.

"There was no time for pouting for me. I tried to be a good teammate and be the biggest cheerleader I could be."

Mike Matheny: "He was the No. 1 cheerleader. If you don't think that had a part in it, you're crazy. It does."

Adam Wainwright: "We were down 6-0. When I came out, every reliever we brought in was throwing 97 mph. We brought in Trevor [Rosenthal], Mitchell Boggs, we brought in [Jason] Motte. Everybody we brought in was throwing just great. They kept holding them to zeroes. We would get a run, we'd get two runs, and all of a sudden it's 6-4 [after seven innings]. I remember thinking, 'This could happen.'"

Michael Morse: "It was almost surreal when it got late in the innings, when we started getting into trouble and the momentum started shifting. You almost felt a vibe in the crowd, where all of a sudden you hear people talking. Before it was more, everybody is in the game, there was an out and people are clapping. Now, all of a sudden, you can hear people are saying, 'What's going on?'"

Jason Motte?(Cardinals reliever, 2008-12, '14: "I remember sitting in the bullpen and the fans were like, 'Hey, you're going home.' Even one of the security guys who worked in the bullpen, he's a nice guy, he wasn't being rude, he was like, 'Man, I'm sorry, you guys are a good group of guys. It's sad that you'd lose like this. Is it worse to lose a game when you're blown out, or when it's a close game?'"

Adam Wainwright: "The thing that I remember so clearly was Chris Carpenter and Skip Schumaker walking up and down the dugout the whole time, saying, 'Guys, this is going to be so sick. This is going to be the greatest comeback in the history of the postseason. I cannot wait for it to happen.' Everybody sort of believed it."

Chris Carpenter: "I do remember that. I don't know what I said or what I was saying, but I remember walking and talking about we've done it before and we can do it again. ... I just wanted to remind everyone, 'Why not?'"

In the bottom of the eighth inning, the Nationals' Kurt Suzuki singled to center field and scored Adam LaRoche. As Nationals took the field for the ninth inning they led 7-5 and were three outs away from their first National League Championship Series.

Michael Morse: "I remember being out there right when I got out on the field. I kept thinking to myself, 'OK, when we get this third out what am I going to do? Am I going to throw my hat in the stands? Well, then I'll lose my hat. Maybe, I'll turn around and wave at these people. What are we going to do?' I remember when we got the first out,?I turned around and the fans are like, 'Two more, two more.' I'm waving and I'm like, 'Yeah, two more, two more. We've got this.'"

Daniel Descalso (Cardinals second baseman, 2010-14): "I had a feeling that I was going to get a chance with a big at-bat there with the game on the line. I just had a feeling that they weren't going to let [ Yadier Molina and David Freese] beat them to tie the game. I just tried to be locked in and stay ready and have a good at-bat."

Nationals reliever? Drew Storen walked Molina and Freese. Descalso singled, scoring Carlos Beltran, who doubled to lead off the inning, and Adron Chambers, who pinch ran for Molina.

Michael Morse: "I remember the big hit by [Daniel] Descalso. It was almost like my legs gave out. I almost couldn't move because I couldn't believe it was happening. I remember me, Jayson Werth -- he was in right field, -- and [Bryce] Harper, kind of looked at each other and we're like, 'What is going on? What just happened?'"

Zach Duke: "In Game 5, we jumped out to the early lead, and then the Cardinals just kept chipping away, chipping away. The never-ending stream of hits in the ninth inning, we just sat there kind of shocked. Just hoping that it would stop at some point."

Descalso stole second base, Pete Kozma hit a single to right field, scoring Freese and Descalso. The Cardinals led 9-7 going into the bottom of the ninth. They then called on Motte, who had led the National League with 42 saves.

Jason Motte: "I was able to go out there in the ninth inning and close it out. ... This ballclub didn't give up."

Michael Morse: "The next thing you know, in the blink of an eye they are jumping up and down and they are going nuts in their dugout."

Zach Duke: "I've got memories, for sure. Just watching things get away from us. It's such a sinking feeling. I never want to go through that again."

Michael Morse: "I stayed on the field just for the fact that it was a game I thought we were going to win. It was a game I thought we had in the bag. A lot of guys stayed on the field. We were dumbfounded. The game ended and it felt like we were supposed to be out there. It felt like we were supposed to win it, but your season is over. At the end of the game when they won it was dead quiet. The only people that were yelling were the Cardinals on the field. It was tough. It was tough to go upstairs."

Zach Duke: "[The locker room was] dead silent. You go from being on top of the world, thinking 'All right, we've got this under control,' and then it all goes away. Everybody was just kind of sitting there staring into nothing. It's tough."

Michael Morse: "I remember going in the locker room. I started taking off my cleats and the tape off my wrist. And I'm thinking to myself, 'All right, we've got BP tomorrow and we'll get them tomorrow.' All of a sudden, I stopped and thought, 'Wait a minute, there is no tomorrow, this is it.' It was one of those seasons where we thought it was never going to end for us, until that happened."

Mike Rizzo: "We were one strike away from winning Game 5 and advancing into the next round. We just couldn't close the deal. It's a credit to that organization for winning the game. I thought that they won that Game 5 as much as we lost Game 5."

Mike Matheny: "There was a whole lot of doubt from everybody. 'Why did I get this job to begin with?' The guys picked me up and gave us a chance to win. It was one of those memories, too -- I don't know if I will ever see a better game as far as the fight, and the stuff that I put really high on my priority list."

Mike Rizzo: "I learned you take nothing for granted. We won 98 games. We thought we had a really good team going. It was young and sustainable. You take nothing for granted. We were up five runs in that game at one point. We were up two runs in the ninth. We were one strike away from winning the game and winning the series."

"The one thing it does to you, it is the ultra-motivator in my mind. When you get a taste for it, it's something that you want to repeat year in and year out."

Michael Morse: "I think that year, in D.C., if you look back at the teams in D.C. before that, it was a lot of individual guys doing their individual stuff, not really a team effort or team oriented. No one is really caring about wins and losses, but once 2012 hit, it was all about winning. I think that has helped that organization since then just care about winning."

Mike Rizzo: "We've been fortunate enough here, since that season, we've won as many games as anybody in baseball. I think the Cardinals have won three more games over that span [461] than we have in the last five seasons [458]. We've won three division titles in five years. We feel that we are a good organization, that is built the right way, to sustaining championship caliber play, and we're looking forward to seeing how we can compete this year."