WASHINGTON – No matter how bad today might look to the Cardinals, they always find a way to make it to tomorrow. Their greatest strength is their knack for hanging in and hanging on once they reach the brink, which is by far their favorite spot.

Twice down to their final strike early Saturday morning against Nationals closer Drew Storen, the defending World Series champions scored four times in the top of the ninth and won Game 5 of the Division Series, 9-7. And that was after having spotted the inspired young opponent an early 6-0 lead. It was their seventh consecutive win in a potential elimination game.

Again, the only thing eliminated was any doubt about their immense clutch ability. Daniel Descalso, the unheralded second baseman whom Nationals’ Manager Davey Johnson said has resembled Rod Carew this week, tied it with a two-out single off the glove of shortstop Ian Desmond. Then Pete Kozma, the Cardinals’ rookie shortstop pressed into action because of a late season injury to Rafael Furcal, hit a two-run single to right. Just like that, a two-run deficit turned into a resounding win.

Instead of going home, the Cardinals will open the National League Championship Series against the Giants in San Francisco on Sunday night. They are obviously comfortable on the edge, and in the postseason. A wild-card team for the second consecutive year, they seem better in the playoffs than the regular season.

“We don’t really classify ourselves as one thing or another,” Manager Mike Matheny said. “What I would like to say about our team is that we’ve shown a lot of heart this year. I’d say, also, they don’t quit, and it’s hard to beat a team that doesn’t quit.”

The St. Louis pitching staff held the Nationals scoreless after Cardinals’ No. 1 starter Adam Wainwright allowed six runs, including three homers, in the first three innings. And the hitters just kept chipping away.

Against the Nationals’ 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez, who lost track of the strike zone as he had in Game 1, they scored twice in the fifth to make it 6-3. One run came home on a wild pitch, another on one of the three walks allowed in the inning by Gonzalez. That was a bit of an answer to the fast start fueled by 19-year-old Nationals star Bryce Harper, who had a triple in the first and a homer in the third, and mainstay Ryan Zimmerman, who had a home run in the first and a double in the third.

Matt Holliday’s groundout in the seventh against Edwin Jackson brought home a run that was set up by a double from Carlos Beltran (three hits, two walks). Descalso led off the eighth with a home run against Tyler Clippard. Beltran got the winning rally going with a leadoff double in the ninth.

Matheny said, “You know, I don’t think I’ve ever been associated with a team that has had more heartbreaking losses than what this club has had this year.

“One of things that stands out about this club is its resiliency and persistence in the way they just keep coming back.”