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Best and worst from Nationals-Giants, NLDS Game 2

The Nationals wasted Jordan Zimmermann’s masterful start. He did start Game 2, right? (AP Photo/Mark Tenally)
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Best and worst moments from the Nationals’ 2-1, 18-inning loss to the Giants in Game 2 of the National League Division Series. 

Best tweet: And there were a lot of good ones in a crushing loss that took 6 hours and 23 minutes to complete.

Worst early birthday present: Moments after Fox Sports 1 announcer Matt Vasgersian mentioned that Tanner Roark was 30 minutes away from turning 28, the Nationals starter-turned-postseason reliever gave up a solo home run to Brandon Belt to lead off the 18th inning. The homer by Belt, which came almost exactly six hours after the game’s first pitch, broke a 1-1 tie.

Worst final out: With Anthony Rendon on first base after drawing a two-out walk in the bottom of the 18th, Jayson Werth stepped to the plate with a chance to add to his postseason legacy in Washington. He flew out to right field against Hunter Strickland and the Nationals were headed to San Francisco down two games-to-none.

Best Rafael Soriano: Yeah, that one. The ex-closer, who has been known to induce panic when he so much as taps his foot in the Nationals’ bullpen, pitched a perfect 16th inning, including a strikeout. And you wondered why Matt Williams put Soriano on the NLDS roster.

Worst late-game drama: With two outs in the top of the ninth inning and the Nationals leading 1-0, this game was over more than three hours before it was actually over. Nothing But October. Nothing But Last Out. Nothing But Tied Series. Jordan Zimmermann, who had retired 20 consecutive batters, was one out away from completing a dominant outing when he issued his first walk of the game to Giants second baseman Joe Panik. Despite the fact that Zimmermann had only thrown 100 pitches, Williams pulled him for Drew Storen.

Best chance for playoff redemption: Storen’s last appearance in the postseason, of course, was his meltdown in Game 5 of the NLDS. He’s been lights out since he reclaimed the closer’s role from Soriano late in the season and says he’s a better pitcher today than he was two years ago. Nothing like a one-out save opportunity at home to bury that memory a little more.

Worst playoff redemption: Storen allowed a single to Buster Posey to put runners on first and second. Pablo Sandoval followed with a slicing double down the left field line that scored Panik to tie the game. Posey was waved home on the play, but Bryce Harper fired a bullet to Ian Desmond, who made a perfect relay throw to Wilson Ramos, who tagged Posey just before his foot touched home plate.

Worst wait and best result: But was Posey out? The play went to a replay review, which, compared to how quickly the game had moved to that point with Zimmermann and Giants starter Tim Hudson matching each other pitch for pitch, seemed to take forever. The call was upheld. Posey was still out. The Nationals failed to score in the bottom half of the inning and the game went to extras.

Worst emotions: Asdrubal Cabrera led off the bottom of the 10th inning and got ahead of Giants reliever Jeremy Affeldt 3-0. After striking out on three consecutive called strikes, Cabrera spun around, slammed his bat and helmet and voiced his displeasure with home plate umpire Vic Carapazza. Cabrera was immediately ejected, as was Williams, who came out to defend his player and yell at Carapazza some more. Randy Knorr assumed managerial duties.

Best major league record:

Former Cincinnati Reds pitcher Johnny Vander Meer remains the only pitcher in major league history to throw no-hitters in consecutive starts. Zimmermann’s bid to equal Vander Meer’s preposterous 1938 feat ended when Posey singled to left with two outs in the first inning.

Worst major league record: Saturday’s game was the longest, by time, in MLB postseason history, eclipsing the 5 hour and 50 minute marathon between Atlanta and Houston in 2005. That game also went 18 innings.

Best ace: Zimmermann was masterful for 8 2/3 innings. He allowed three hits, the one walk that would signal the end of his night and struck out six. He walked off the mound to a standing ovation. Zimmermann signed a two-year contract extension in January, but it’s probably time for the Nationals to shell out the cash that will keep him in D.C. and ensure he can afford to buy multiple BMWs for his teammates who make great plays to preserve the no-hitters he seems destined to throw in the future.

Best and worst streaks: The Giants entered the game with a National League record nine consecutive postseason victories. San Francisco had also lost six consecutive NLDS Game 2s. One of those streaks had to end.

Worst nemesis: Hudson, who entered the game with an 18-5 career record in 31 appearances against the Nationals, was a worthy adversary. He allowed one run on seven hits in 7 1/3 innings and finished with a career postseason-best eight strikeouts.

Best sacrifice:

After Desmond walked to lead off the 12th, Harper followed with a loud fly ball to center field. Had he done it again, a walk-off blast on the heels of Friday’s moonshot? Judging by the collective roar from the Nationals Park crowd as the ball left Harper’s bat, there was a moment when it seemed possible that he had. Gregor Blanco settled under the ball, but Desmond wisely tagged up and represented the winning run on second base with one out. Alas, Ramos struck out and Danny Espinosa lined out to end the inning.

Worst warning track power: Four innings later, LaRoche sent a long drive to right field that would’ve landed in the Nationals’ bullpen in August. But on a cold and windy night at Nationals Park, it died short of the wall and was caught for a long out.

Best imitation of San Francisco-in-August weather: The Fox Sports 1 cameras showed Nationals players huddling over a small heater in the dugout to keep warm long before the game entered the realm of the absurd. Fans didn’t have the same luxury, but they did have white rally scarves towels. Some couldn’t take the cold — or maybe the excitement — and left before the game was over.

Best escape act:

Jerry Blevins, who stranded two inherited runners in Game 1, was called upon in the 12th after Hunter Pence led off with a double to deep center off Aaron Barrett. Belt moved Pence to third base with a groundout. Then Blevins got Brandon Crawford to pop out to short and Andrew Susac to ground out to first to send the game to the 13th inning tied 1-1.

Best relief: Craig Stammen worked a scoreless 13th, 14th and 15th for the Nationals. The Giants’ Yusmeiro Petit earned the win after allowing one hit and striking out seven over six scoreless innings.

Best hit that happened so long ago you might have forgotten it: Cabrera, who homered on Thursday, led off the third inning with a double to left off of Hudson. It was the only extra-base hit of the game by either team until Sandoval’s game-tying double in the ninth.

Worst failure to advance the runner: Zimmermann, who had nine sacrifice bunts during the season, couldn’t get a bunt down to move Cabrera to third. He bunted foul with two strikes and Denard Span followed with a harmless grounder to first base.

Best two-out hit by a National: With Cabrera on third base in the third inning, Anthony Rendon drilled a ground ball just past the glove of shortstop Brandon Crawford. The Nationals had their first lead in the series.

Best franchise record (including the Montreal years, for effect): Rendon became the first Nationals/Expos player with four hits in a postseason game. They came in his first four at bats and he would finish 4 for 7 with a walk.

Best vocalist: D.C. Washington, a military contractor from Woodbridge and a regular at D.C. sporting events, sang the “Star-Spangled Banner” before the game and “God Bless America” during the seventh-inning stretch. He did not, to my knowledge, sing during the 14th-inning stretch.

Best ceremonial first pitch: Army Sgt. 1st class Brian Keaton, who was wounded by a bomb explosion in Iraq, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Keaton hugged Rendon and then crawled near the mound before pulling a fake pin and releasing the ball as if it were a grenade. Unfortunately, Keaton not was available in relief.

Best defense: There were no defensive gems such as the play Steven Souza Jr. made to clinch Zimmermann’s no-hitter in the regular season finale, but he had plenty of support behind him. In the eighth inning alone, Desmond ranged into the outfield to make an over the shoulder catch on a popup by Crawford and LaRoche retired the side with a diving grab on Travis Ishikawa’s line drive. Ramos, whose passed ball in Game 1 led to an unearned run, was especially solid. He completed a strike ’em out-thrown ’em out double play for a second straight day and threw out Posey trying to advance on a ball in the dirt to end the top of the 14th.

Worst Cracker Jack prize: The boxes are too small to fit a Jayson Werth garden gnome, but one unlucky Nationals fan got stuck with a Giants sticker.

Worst attire (excluding fans who didn’t dress for the chilly weather): The fan in the Seahawks jersey with the 12th Man flag or the fan in the Dan Fouts powder blue Chargers throwback. You decide.

Best fan support from a D.C. athlete: Capitals star Alex Ovechkin attended the game and may have wondered at what point the teams would decide the outcome with a shootout.

Best worthless skill:

Harper was 0 for 7 on Saturday, but Fox Sports 1 showed pregame footage of the Nationals slugger juggling a baseball with his bat. Harper apparently managed to keep the ball in the air for 19 seconds.

Best postseason performer:

Teddy won. Twice. That’s six wins in six career postseason races at Nationals Park for No. 26. There was a second race, as is customary, in the middle of the 13th inning.

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