When the Nationals took a 6-0 lead last night, the Giants and Reds immediately popped into the minds of everyone who watched that early afternoon Game 5 in Cincinnati. How the Giants fought off threat after threat from the Reds, who tossed a couple guys on base in each of the last four innings.

Like the Reds on Thursday, the Cardinals climbed back to within three runs, then two. A Daniel Descalso homer in the top of the 8th brought St. Louis to within a run, then a Kurt Suzuki single drove in Adam LaRoche to give Washington a cushion heading into the 9th. Then the Cardinals set forth on an incredible 2-out rally to cap off an exhilarating set of Divisional Championship Series.

As the Cardinals came back, I should’ve been taken aback, surprised, shocked, what have you. But even when Mike Morse hit the home run to give the home team a 6-run advantage in the 3rd, I still had a hard time believing St. Louis would fade away. Look how close the Reds came to ruining all of this relief, joy and anticipation the Giants and their fans are feeling in the days and hours leading up to Sunday evening. The Cardinals were an even likelier comeback candidate — to me, anyway — because once Sergio Romo struck out Scott Rolen I couldn’t imagine another team facing the Giants in the NLCS.

Here are 10 reasons why (warning: some of these reasons are on the self-indulgent and/or selfish side):

1. National League hierarchy

This is the first time the previous two World Series winners faced each other in the League Championship Series the following year. We’re still a ways away from declaring that either franchise is a modern day dynasty (although the Cardinals have made the playoffs an impressive nine times in the past 13 years), but these two teams have officially supplanted clubs like the Phillies and Braves as the preeminent powers in the NL.

2. Carlos Beltran

Have there ever been weirder feelings about a two-month rental? Beltran started out slowly with the Giants, then he got hurt as the team was in the midst of a quick plunge into a bleak, offense-free abyss. Then Beltran came back and hit the crap out of the ball. He didn’t tax his body sprinting and diving for some bloops, but then he’d make All-World plays with his glove on others. He wasn’t the reason why the Giants came up short in 2011, but many fans who were tired of watching the Buster Posey replay needed something on which to fixate.

The Giants decided they weren’t going to wait out the Beltran market, and they weren’t willing to beat the Cardinals’ offer ($26 million over two years). So in effect the Giants chose Melky Cabrera instead. Then that thing happened with Melky, and the Giants traded for Hunter Pence. So for the Giants, Beltran is now linked to Zack Wheeler, Cabrera and Pence. It’s a confusing (and often frustrating, especially when Beltran plays as well as he did in the first half of the 2012 season and during the NLDS) set of events that will certainly lead to Beltran’s NLCS performance receiving extra scrutiny … and jeers from the AT&T Park bleachers.

3. Joe Buck and Tim McCarver

Buck will do play-by-play for the game between the San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants in the afternoon at Candlestick Park, then presumably take a helicopter and call Game 1 of the NLCS about an hour after the football game ends. That is, unless 49ers/Giants goes to overtime like in the NFC Championship Game.

Buck and McCarver are passionately disliked around here, partly because of the 2002 NLCS — the last time the Giants and Cardinals faced in the postseason. Fair or not, with Jack Buck passing in June of that year and his son clearly emotional as the Cardinals’ season ended in Game 5 at Pacific Bell Park, many thought Buck and McCarver (who never could win folks over here when he served as the Giants’ color commentator in 2002) were rooting for St. Louis to win.

And with tweets like these, the Buck-Cardinals connection will continue to be a rallying/complaining point for Giants fans for the next week.

4. Spotlight on catchers

Both teams are managed by former catchers, Mike Matheny and Bruce Bochy. The best players on each team — Yadier Molina and Buster Posey — also play catcher. Add in that the managers for the two teams that start play in the ALCS tonight also played catcher (Jim Leyland was a catcher in the Tigers’ minor league system from 1964-70), and every kid is going to want to play catcher next season in Little Leagues and softball leagues across the nation.

5. Tie-breaker

The Giants and Cardinals split their season series at three wins apiece.

6. Jon Jay

I can’t stand the guy for whatever reason. In that irrational, spiteful place deep inside my soul, he’s like a 2012 Jose Oquendo (more on him later).

7. Tradition

With the Yankees and Tigers facing off in the other League, the Nationals would’ve seemed out of place since every other franchise in the Divisional round was established in 1901 or earlier.

Giants, Cardinals, Yankees, Tigers. Even if you hate one or more of those teams, here’s something undeniably cool about that.

8. Ryan Theriot

Owner of a ring for his efforts as a member of the 2011 Cardinals, you just knew he was going to play some sort of role this postseason besides a couple NLDS at-bats and his duties as the unofficial Giants mascot.

9. The “haves” are having all the fun

According to USA Today’s figures, each of the four teams still standing are among the nine MLB franchises who paid at least $110 million in player salary this season. Here are the rankings for the teams that played in the Divisional round:

(1) New York Yankees: $ 197,962,289
(5) Detroit Tigers: $ 132,300,000
(8) San Francisco Giants: $ 117,620,683
(9) St. Louis Cardinals: $ 110,300,862
(17) Cincinnati Reds: $ 82,203,616
(19) Baltimore Orioles: $ 81,428,999
(20) Washington Nationals: $ 81,336,143
(29) Oakland Athletics: $ 55,372,500

10. 1987

Please forgive me if I have told this story before…

The Cardinals were my least favorite team when I was nine due to what happened in the year listed above.

My dad went Giants-crazy as the team surged toward their first NL West championship in 16 years, purchasing GiantsVision and a 20-game ticket plan (even though we lived in Eureka) so we’d have a shot at postseason tickets.

He purchased two seats behind the left field foul pole in the upper deck at Candlestick Park for each home game of the NLCS and a potential World Series. I watched Game 3 with my dad, a game in which the Giants had an early 4-0 lead that the Cardinals decimated with 6 runs over the 6th and 7th innings off Atlee Hammaker and Don Robinson.

My mom went with my dad to Game 4, which the Giants won 4-2 as both Mike Krukow and Danny Cox went the distance.

I went with my dad to Game 5 (my dad was the “ticketmaster,” if you will), when the Giants took a 3-2 series lead thanks to Joe Price (lefty soft-tosser, good curveball) coming in relief of Rick Reuschel and pitching five shutout innings to close out a glorious 6-3 victory.

We drove home to watch Games 6 and 7 on TV, not before I bragged to all my elementary school classmates how I’d be watching Game 3 of the World Series in person. Then Cox, John Tudor and Oquendo had to go and ruin everything

I hated everything about that team: Oquendo’s beard, that awful artificial turf at Busch Stadium, Ozzie Smith’s fancy gymnastics routines on that turf, the way Cardinals catcher Tony Peña would sit on his ass with his legs splayed out behind the plate, Terry Pendleton, Todd Worrell, Whitey Herzog … it took me a while to warm up to the idea of Willie McGee playing right field for the Giants years later, even though he was a tremendous player.

2002 didn’t make me feel any better about 1987 either, because of what happened afterward (I won’t go into details). The only thing that has soothed the pain was when the following brawl occurred at Busch in 1988 during the middle of a 5-0 victory for the Giants. Get him, Candy.

(GIF via McCovey Chronicles)