The season hung in the balance. And then the St. Louis Cardinals hung a dozen runs on Washington.
"It's huge," Cards third baseman David Freese said after the Redbirds ripped the Nationals 12-4 Monday to even their Division Series at 1-1. "I think every game is a must-win, obviously. But doing down 2-0 -- I guess you can say it now, after we won -- going down 2-0 is not something we were too fond of.
"Especially playing a team like Washington -- potent offense, great pitching. Just to come out of here with a victory, no matter how we did it, is a good thing."
A good thing, indeed, if you're a Cardinals fan hoping their season can extend beyond the next three games in Washington.
"We needed to win," said Redbirds slugger Carlos Beltran, who had two majestic home runs to lead the team's 13-hit outburst against seven Washington pitchers. "That was the scenario for us, to be able to leave this place with an even series. Thank God we were able to do that."
This is old hat for this Cardinals club, if you'll remember: The 2011 Redbirds lost Game 1 of the Division Series in Philadelphia, then won the series in five games. Later, the Cards lost Game 1 of the World Series at home against Texas, and won in seven.
"I feel like what happened to us last year would help anybody in the postseason," said Skip Schumaker, one of 17 Cardinals players with post-season experience. "Knowing you're not out of it, knowing there's a series to be played, and one game doesn't matter.
"I've always said post-season experience is invaluable. If you're a rookie or you're a veteran, your first post-season is tough -- it's the bright lights, there's more media, there's a lot of scrutiny, everything's picked at."
Nobody was picked at more than the Cardinals after their frustrating 3-2 loss in Game 1 Sunday -- questions about the offense, the pitching staff, the rookie manager's handling of the bullpen late in the game.
But Beltran, a 14-year veteran who has been to two league championship series but has yet to play in a World Series game, said playing under pressure is part of the package this time of year.
"Who doesn't enjoy playing in these kinds of games, where you're trying to win a championship?" he said. "Especially in my case: I haven't been able to have that opportunity. I'm trying to enjoy it, because you never know when you're going to be in that situation again."
Had they lost Monday, the Cardinals would have been in the toughest situation imaginable: Down 2-0 after losing twice at home, having to sweep in Washington in a three-game set starting Wednesday.
Winning two of three will be tough enough. Winning all three would have been a Herculean task, even for a Cardinal club that ran the table last October.
"We've got a lot of experience in this clubhouse," said the Cards' Daniel Descalso, who hit his first career post-season home run Monday. "Lose a tough game, there's a game tomorrow; that's behind us.
"We've got guys who bounce back pretty well. We made some adjustments today, and it was a much better ballgame for us."
Easy to say after the game, but veteran Cardinals players in the clubhouse said they weren't expecting a second day of frustration at the hands of the Nationals.
"It goes back to the leadership we have in here, the core players," said Schumaker, in his eighth year with St. Louis. "I don't think Chris Carpenter would let us die in here.
"We felt that was a tough loss yesterday, no doubt about it: We had chances to win, and it was a tough way to lose. But we're excited about the guys we have in this clubhouse, ... so I don't think we'd count ourselves out yet."
Not after summoning the will to turn the calendar page on Game 1's loss, no more than a distant memory by the time the Cardinals ran away with the Game 2 victory.
"We know this offense has the potential to do this," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "It was nice to see this, and hopefully it becomes contagious and the guys just keep going."
If nothing else, the win Monday restored the Cardinals' opportunity to extend a season the players don't want to see end any time soon.
"We're just playing hard," Freese said. "We're trying to have a good time with this. There are a lot of teams sitting at home, and we're not one of them."
Joe Ostermeier has written about the Cardinals for the News-Democrat since 1985, and is chairman of the St. Louis Chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America. He can be reached at 618-239-2512 or at email@example.com