In the postgame clubhouse Friday night, players hugged and clasped hands. Some of them wondered whether they would come back next season. Others had ensuing appointments for offseason surgery. Stephen Strasburg could move beyond the unprecedented decision that shaped his season. None of them could shake the immediate sting, but neither could they ignore the 100 games they won or the NL East title they captured.
“We’ve come a long ways,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “I think that’s why it hurts even more, because of what we’ve all been through. We should be proud of what we did this year. We were the first team in this organization to be to this level.”
The brutal finish to a magical season will invite second-guesses, starting with decisions Manager Davey Johnson made in Game 5. Johnson’s actions all season stemmed from showing confidence in using players in their established roles. In Game 5, as he tried to cobble together the final 12 outs, Johnson veered away from his usual tack.
All year, Johnson had used Ryan Mattheus in the seventh inning against right-handed lineups. He had Game 3 starter Edwin Jackson available, in the same role Jordan Zimmermann filled brilliantly in their Game 4 victory. But Johnson made clear before Friday’s game that Zimmermann had pitched the day before because the Nationals’ bullpen was worn from a Game 3 beatdown. He said Jackson would pitch only if the game lurched into extra innings.
“My bullpen was kind of overused on the day before,” Johnson said before Game 5, explaining his decision to use Zimmermann. “I really needed somebody for that seventh inning.”
But in the seventh inning Friday, Johnson chose Jackson over Mattheus, and Jackson allowed one of the runs that enabled the Cardinals to chip away at the lead.
“I just felt like Jackson was the best choice I had to get through that part of that lineup,” Johnson said late Friday night. “He did the job for me. He gave up a run, but he did what we needed to to get to the people we needed to get to.”
In the ninth inning, Johnson used closer Drew Storen on a third consecutive day, which could have been avoided earlier in the series. In a Game 3 blowout, Storen pitched the ninth and threw 11 pitches in an 8-0 loss.
Storen had pitched on three straight days once all season, on Sept. 10, 11 and 12. But on Sept. 11 and 12 he threw five total pitches, recording just one out in both games. By using him in Game 3, Johnson enhanced the odds that he would trust Storen, who underwent elbow surgery in April,with a larger workload in three consecutive games than he carried all year.