By Tara Cangialosi
Everyone, and then no one, wanted to be at Nationals Park last Saturday.
After the Washington Nationals dropped the first NLDS game to San Francisco, it seemed like one bad game would not take the wind out of their sails.
At least that’s what everyone thought.
Game 2 brought about 18 innings of baseball, 17 different pitchers from both teams and disaster for the National League’s top-ranked team.
By the time the game had ended, it earned the title of longest postseason game in MLB history. Spanning six hours and 23 minutes, the contest outlasted the Oct. 5, 2005 matchup between the Astros and Braves that took five hours and 50 minutes.
With two outs in the top of the ninth inning and the Nationals up 1-0, the game was in the bag.
The Nats’ Jordan Zimmermann retired 20 consecutive batters and was one out away from a complete game shut-out that would even the series at one game a piece. Failing to retire the side, however, he walked Giants’ second baseman, Joe Panik.
It was here that first-year manager Matt Williams made an undeniable rookie mistake.
Williams pulled Zimmermann, even though the right-hander had only thrown 100 pitches and given up three hits. The performance was clutch beyond belief and it was exactly what the Nats needed, but it was capped before it was complete.
He called on Drew Storen, Washington’s closer, to lock in the win.
He would do just the opposite, giving up the game-tying double to Pablo Sandoval. Buster Posey was thrown out at home on the same play, sending the game into extras and muddying Zimmerman’s nearly perfect performance.
Storen’s failure to close the game mirrored his blown two-out, ninth inning save opportunity in Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS series against St. Louis. Though no one wanted to speak of it, the resemblance was uncanny.
Williams’ blunder would haunt the Nats for the rest of the night.
A game of its own, extras lasted until the 18th inning. The Giants’ Brandon Belt finally broke through, when he smacked a solo shot over the right field fence, giving the Giants a 2-1 lead. The Nats could not respond, and the Giants held a startling 2-0 lead in the series.
Williams over-managed with a classic first-year mistake: he felt the need to use his closer.
Though Washington came back from the loss with a Game 3 victory at AT&T Park on Oct. 6, they can no longer afford the types of mistakes made in Game 2. With the Giants still up 2-1, the Nats still have some serious work to do in Game 4 and Game 5, if there is a game 5.
If Washington continues on to the NLCS come the end of the week, Williams must trust his starters, or it could send his franchise packing its bags sooner than they would like.
*Update: San Francisco won Game 4 by a score of 3-2 on Oct. 7, and will move on to the NLCS.
Tara Cangialosi is the Wed Editor for The Fordham Ram.