WASHINGTON, D.C., - It did not exactly feel like a classic. The record will show that it was the longest game in postseason history, and when it was over, at least a third of the crowd that had packed the ballpark for first pitch more than six and a half hours earlier had long gone. A mild October afternoon in the nation’s capital had turned into a bitterly cold night. The Capitol building glowed wearily in the distance. The noises from the remaining crowd were no longer cheers but gasps of exasperation and dying wheezes. After a pitching masterpiece that had been long forgotten, a managerial move that will be second guessed for weeks and months (and decades?) to come, two ejections, a stunning blown save, a pitcher coming in to toss 80 pitches in relief, a home run by a hitter who’d previously gone 0 for 6 on the night, 17 different pitchers and 485 pitches and 18 innings, after all that, it was over.
Game 2 of the NLDS between the Giants and Nationals -- a 2-1 win for San Francisco to put the Giants up 2-0 in the series -- was strange, preposterous, exhilarating, tedious, beautiful, ugly, terrible and great.
“This is a game that I will always remember,” said Giants manager Bruce Bochy. For the Giants, their unexplainable October magic continues.They have now won 10 straight games in the postseason, now the longest streak in NL history. For the Nats? This was every bit as cruel and painful as the team’s loss in Game 5 of the NLDS two years ago.
“We scratched and clawed and it was a dogfight, we lost -- but the series isn’t over,” said Washington pitcher Tanner Roark, who gave up the game-winning solo home run to Brandon Belt in the top of the 18th inning.
Belt was the hero of the game, with his no-doubter over the right field wall, a most unlikely moment for someone who in his six previous at bats he could not have looked more lost.
“I knew I wasn’t having great at-bats the entire game,” the first baseman said afterward. “I wasn’t sticking with the game plan that I had in the previous five or six games -- I just had to restart a little bit, and say hey, we’re going up here looking for a good at-bat. Just get a good at-bat, and whatever happens, happens. I just wanted to get on base for the guys behind me. Fortunately I put a good enough swing on it.”
The game will be remembered for Belt’s homer, but most of all, a pitching change that may have sealed the fate of the Nats’ season. Before Williams took it away from him, this was Zimmermann’s game. The right-hander, the true ace of the Nationals’ staff, was on his way to one of the most impressive postseason complete games in recent memory. In an October where Clayton Kershaw has looked human, Adam Wainwright has been shelled and Max Scherzer roughed up, Zimmermann delivered the postseason’s first real pitching masterpiece. Under a bright blue sky, he took the mound at 5:38 p.m., and unleashed a 93 mph fastball down the middle for a strike, the first pitch of a start that was arguably more impressive than his no-hitter six days earlier.
Zimmermann was cruising. He had retired 20 straight when he walked Joe Panik with his 100th pitch with two outs in the ninth inning, the first walk that, incredibly, either team had issued. Then Williams pulled Zimmermann for Storen, who would be throwing his very first postseason pitch since his infamous blown save against St. Louis in Game 5 of the 2012 Division Series. He gave up a single to Buster Posey. Two pitches later, Pablo Sandoval ripped a double to left field to score Panik before Posey was thrown out at home in a close call at the plate (Even after a two-minute, 24-second review -- it appeared that Posey may have slipped under the tag -- the replay was not exactly definitive).
“Why did we decide to take him out?” Williams said. “Because if he got in trouble in the ninth or got a baserunner, we were going to bring our closer in. That is what we have done all year.”
After the ninth-inning meltdown tensions were running high in the Nats dugout. After a strikeout of Asdrubal Cabrera in the 10th, Cabrera and Williams were ejected for arguing balls and strikes with home plate ump Vic Carapazza.
An 18th inning home run, a blown save, a game-changing managerial decision, two ejections, a brilliant six shutout innings of relief from Yusmiero Petit (“Petit, he really saved us, obviously,” said Bochy): this is what this game will be remembered for. But let us remember that Tim Hudson, in a performance that evoked memories of his postseason starts with the A’s over a decade ago, allowed one run over 7 1/3 innings while striking out eight. A day after Jake Peavy turned in a vintage performance, the 39-year-old right-hander and longtime Nationals nemesis was brilliant.
“You want to see pitching? You saw tremendous pitching on both sides,” said Bochy. “The two starters, they locked horns.”
Now the series shifts to San Francisco, with Madison Bumgarner and Doug Fister facing off in Game 3 on Monday. Can the Nats recover? Where is the confidence of Storen? Will the offense, which has scored three runs in 27 innings, show up?
“We’re fighters and we got a lot of heart,” said Roark. “We’re going to go down swinging.”