The best and worst moments from the Nationals’ 3-2 loss to the San Francisco Giants in Game 1 of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park.
Best sight: Stephen Strasburg’s first pitch, a 97-mph called strike to Gregor Blanco that the 44,035 screaming fans at Nationals Park had waited two years to see. You think Strasburg was amped for his postseason debut after being shut down before the 2012 playoffs? Later in the inning, Strasburg hit 99 mph on the radar gun for the first time all season. He would leave after allowing two runs — one earned — in five-plus innings and took the loss.
Best pitcher: San Francisco starter Jake Peavy entered the game with a 9.27 ERA in five career postseason starts and had never pitched into the seventh inning in the playoffs. He was pulled after a two-out walk to Jayson Werth in the sixth, but kept the Nationals scoreless on only two hits. Peavy didn’t allow a hit until the fifth inning and exited with three walks and three strikeouts.
Worst sound: Silence. Through the first four innings, the Nationals didn’t give fans much reason to cheer and one had to wonder if Simon & Garfunkel would replace Garth Brooks as the artist of choice for the seventh-inning stretch.
It’s the Library of Congress in here right now.
— Andrew Baggarly (@CSNBaggs) October 3, 2014
It would be lovely if the Nats could give the crowd something to cheer about. Just deathly quiet here.
— Serious Jammage (@serious_jammage) October 3, 2014
Best home run: Bryce Harper brought the crowd to its feet with a towering solo home run into the third deck in right field to lead off the seventh inning. The 445-foot blast off Giants rookie Hunter Strickland was the longest of Harper’s career and pulled the Nationals to within 3-1.
Best other home run: Two batters later, Asdrubal Cabrera drilled a Strickland pitch into the Nationals’ bullpen to cut the Giants’ lead to one. Cabrera also had an epic bat flip.
Worst rally: Trailing, 3-2, entering the bottom of the ninth, the stage was seemingly set for another walk-off win, which became something of a habit for the Nationals in the second half of the season. Alas, Mr. Walk-Off Ryan Zimmerman had already been used as a pinch-hitter and flew out to center field in the seventh, and Giants closer Santiago Casilla retired Wilson Ramos, Cabrera and Danny Espinosa in order to give San Francisco a 1-0 series lead.
Worst decision: With Travis Ishikawa on first base after a single to lead off the third inning, Peavy bunted down the first base line. Adam LaRoche picked up the ball and, instead of taking the sure out at first, he tried to get the lead runner at second. Ishikawa was initially ruled out, but Giants manager Bruce Bochy challenged and the call and it was overturned after a replay review.
Worst passed ball: Blanco failed to move the runners into scoring position by lining out in the Giants’ next at-bat, but a passed ball by Wilson Ramos with Joe Panik at the plate allowed Ishikawa and Peavy to move up to second and third. Panik followed with a single and the unearned run gave the Giants a 1-0 lead.
Best recovery: Strasburg, who has been known to let defensive miscues behind him get to his head and affect his performance, got Buster Posey to ground into an inning-ending, 5-4-3 double play.
Best contact: The Giants had eight hits off Strasburg, who exited after allowing the first two batters to reach in the sixth. Strasburg, who has averaged more than a strikeout per inning in his career, wasn’t missing bats with the same frequency and finished with only two strikeouts.
Best relief by a Nationals pitcher: Jerry Blevins entered the game with two on and nobody out in the sixth, but cleaned up Strasburg’s mess by striking out Ishikawa and getting Peavy and Blanco to fly out.
Best ‘There goes the no-hitter’: Harper, who went 3 for 23 with eight strikeouts in the 2012 NLDS and resisted the temptation to pound his bat into the dirt after fouling out in his first at-bat on Friday, led off the fifth inning with an infield single off the glove of Giants first baseman Brandon Belt. Nationals fans swung their white rally towels for one of the first times all game as a pumped-up Harper swung an imaginary towel and exchanged fist-pounds with first base coach Tony Tarasco. “Harper doing his best M.L. Carr impression,” Fox Sports 1 announcer Matt Vasgersian said.
Worst rally killer: Washington’s next batter, Ramos, grounded into a 4-6-3 double play. Peavy was every bit as pumped as Harper.
Best ex-Giant: Nate Schierholtz, who spent the first six seasons of his career with San Francisco, pinch hit for Strasburg and led off the sixth inning with a double off the right field wall. It marked the first time the Nationals had a runner in scoring position.
Worst failure to advance the runner: Span followed Schierholtz’s double with a lazy fly ball to center.
Best and worst relief by a Giants pitcher: Peavy retired Anthony Rendon before walking Werth to put runners on first and second in the sixth. Javier Lopez replaced Peavy and walked LaRoche to load the bases, leading Giants Manager Bruce Bochy to call upon Strickland. The right-hander, who would allow the solo homers to Harper and Cabrera in the next inning , struck out Ian Desmond on four fastballs to end the Nationals’ biggest threat of the game.
Hunter Strickland drinks your milkshake. 99, 98, 99, 100. Ian Desmond swings through the last. Nats leave them loaded. — Adam Kilgore (@AdamKilgoreWP) October 3, 2014
Worst runners left on base: Desmond, who went 0 for 4, struck out against Sergio Romo with two runners on in the eighth. The shortstop was responsible for five of the Nationals’ seven runners left on base.
Best win: Teddy, fresh off the excitement of capturing his first regular season championship in Presidents Race history, won again after the Racing Presidents stopped mid-race to dance to Justin Timberlake’s “Rock Your Body.” The once lovable loser remains undefeated in the postseason after winning all three races during the 2012 NLDS.
Best and worst Spanning: Span made a nice, spinning catch on Panik’s line drive to center field in the first inning, but couldn’t quite corral Panik’s line drive to lead off the seventh. The ball deflected off the wall and Panik ended up with a leadoff triple. He scored what would turn out to be the deciding run on Posey’s infield single one batter later.
Best attempted gnome-field advantage: There were gnomes everywhere at Nationals Park. Fan wore gnome hats. Fans made gnome signs. There were even gnomes on the warning track before the game.
Worst enforcement: There were multiple reports of fans being asked by ushers to sit down during the game and being removed from the seating area when they refused to comply. Look, I get it. There’s a reason fans, some of whom have bad knees, pay good money for seats as opposed to standing-room only tickets, and it would stink to disrupt their enjoyment of the game. Still, it’s the playoffs. Standing should be permitted.
Worst absence: Former Nationals fan favorite Michael Morse, who is recovering from an oblique injury, was left off the Giants’ 25-man NLDS roster. Bummer.
Best weather: It was an overcast day at Nationals Park, which was probably a welcome relief to players from both teams. The “Sun Monster” has been known to wreak havoc on outfielders’ abilities to track fly balls during mid-afternoon games this time of year.
Best correction: As promised, the construction company that hung the ‘GO NAT’S’ banner near Nationals Park last week hung an edited sign without the extraneous apostrophe.
Best flyover: There’s nothing like playoff baseball.
Best reason for optimism: Jordan Zimmermann starts for the Nationals in Game 2 on Saturday. He was pretty good in his last start.