WASHINGTON (AP) — Bryce Harper tripled during an early burst, then homered the next time up as Gio Gonzalez and the Washington Nationals took a 6-3 lead over the St. Louis Cardinals after six innings Friday night in the deciding Game 5 of the NL division series.
A night after Jayson Werth capped a 13-pitch at-bat by hitting a winning home run in the ninth inning, the Nationals needed only seven pitches to put the defending World Series champions in early trouble.
Werth led off with a double against Adam Wainwright, Harper tripled and Ryan Zimmerman homered for a 3-0 lead in the first. Harper and Michael Morse chased Wainwright with home runs in the third.
The 19-year-old Harper became the first teenager to hit a triple in a postseason game — and the second-youngest player to homer.
Down 6-0, the Cardinals trimmed the deficit with a run in the fourth and two more in the fifth. Still, the two-spot was a letdown given that St. Louis had loaded the bases with none out, with Gonzalez suddenly unable to find the strike zone.
The winner would face the San Francisco Giants on Sunday in Game 1 of the NL championship series, in Washington if the Nationals were to advance and in San Francisco if the wild-card Cardinals could move on.
Werth, who won Game 4 with a ninth-inning shot off reliever Lance Lynn, was greeted with a resounding ovation from the red-clad, towel-waving fans at Nationals Park. He heard the roars again when he lined a double to the left-field corner.
The 19-year-old Harper — 1 for 18 in the series entering the game — followed with a drive to left-center that hit only a foot or two from the top of the wall. Zimmerman then launched a 1-0 pitch to Row 1 in right-center, giving the Nationals a trio of runs before anyone on the home team had made an out.
That was more runs than Washington had scored in the previous two games combined, and it was first time Wainwright had allowed more than one run in any of his 12 career postseason appearances.
Harper left no doubt that he was done with his slump when the All-Star put a 3-2 sinker into the right-center stands to lead off the third. Zimmerman then doubled, and Morse came up two batters later and put Wainwright's final pitch of the night into the visitor's bullpen beyond left field.
Wainwright was gone after 2 1-3 innings, allowing six runs and seven hits. Joe Kelly came on to finish the third and also worked a scoreless fourth. Trevor Rosenthal set the Nationals down in order in the fifth, and Edward Mujica emerged unscathed in the sixth despite allowing two baserunners.
The Cardinals got on the board in the fourth when Carlos Beltran walked and was doubled home by Matt Holliday. The bottom of the St. Louis order then loaded the bases with none out in the fifth with a double by Daniel Descalso, a single by Pete Kozma and a walk to pinch hitter Shane Robinson.
Gonzalez retired Jon Jay on a soft liner, then bounced a wild pitch in the dirt that allowed Descalso to score. Gonzalez walked Beltran to load the bases again to bring the tying run up to the plate.
Holliday could only manage a tapper in front of the plate, and Kozma was forced at home. Gonzalez issued a bases-loaded walk to Allen Craig — the left-hander's third free pass of the inning — making the score 6-3. Gonzalez avoided further damage by getting Yadier Molina to fly out to right to end the inning.
Gonzalez's night was complete. He allowed three runs and five hits over five innings with four walks and five strikeouts. Relievers Craig Stammen and lefty specialist Sean Burnett, brought in to face pinch-hitting Skip Schumaker, combined to pitch a scoreless sixth.
Both managers stuck with the same lineup for the fifth straight game, and the pitching matchup was a rerun of Game 1, when neither Wainwright nor Gonzalez got in the decision in a 3-2 Nationals victory. St. Louis outscored Washington 23-9 in the first four games, but routs in Games 2 and 3 were countered by one-run losses in Games 1 and 4.
Gonzalez, who topped the majors with 21 regular-season wins, gave up a one-out single to Beltran in the first inning, but Beltran was left stranded after Holliday chased a trademark Gonzalez curveball in the dirt for a strikeout and Craig flied to center.
David Freese signaled off Gonzalez in the second but was thrown out trying to steal by Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki. Gonzalez struck out two in a 1-2-3 third.
Wainwright, who was a spectator during the Cardinals' title run last fall while he recovered from reconstructive elbow surgery, settled down after the Nationals' initial outburst, striking out Adam LaRoche, Morse and Ian Desmond in a row to end the first. He allowed only a single to Suzuki in a scoreless second, but he couldn't survive the third.
Follow Joseph White on Twitter: http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP