Best and worst moments from Washington’s season-ending 3-2 loss to the Giants in San Francisco.
Worst bottom line: For the second time in three years, the Nats had the best record in the National League and couldn’t get out of the first round of the playoffs. I don’t particularly care to read any big-picture narratives about why that happened just yet — and I really don’t care to read comparisons between the Nats and the Caps — but it’s a crushing result for what has been this city’s best team.
Worst middle of the lineup: There will be plenty of lamentations about what happened in this series, from the decision to pull Jordan Zimmermann in Game 2 to the Aaron Barrett implosion in Game 4 to the curious deployment of Ryan Zimmerman. But the death knell was likely this: Jayson Werth went 1 for 17, and Adam LaRoche finished 1 for 18. When your third and fourth hitters get two hits in 35 at-bats, you’re in trouble.
When the Nats lost in heart-breaking fashion in the 2012 playoffs, the NLCS no one wanted to watch featured the Cardinals and the Giants. After St. Louis finished off the Dodgers on Tuesday and the Giants got past the Nats, well, it’s happening again.
Worst strikeout call:
Home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt called Ian Desmond out on this check swing in the top of the ninth. Whether or not you think that was a swing — and you surely can’t decide based on a screengrab — that’s the first base umpire’s call to make, especially in a season-ending situation.
Worst slop: Here’s where it gets ugly. The Giants got their runs the broken-down-shopping-cart way: on a bases-loaded walk and a bases-loaded wild pitch. The latter came courtesy Aaron Barrett, who had one of the worst seventh innings this earth has seen, walking Hunter Pence to load the bases before uncorking the game-losing wild pitch. Oh, and one more thing.
Best trick play: In one of the most bizarre plays any of us has ever seen, Barrett then air-mailed an intentional walk pitch to Pablo Sandoval, before miraculously tagging out Buster Posey at the plate after Wilson Ramos hustled to the backstop. This is the stuff of tee ball, not the MLB playoffs. Well, I guess there are no intentional walks in tee ball. This is the stuff of rec league slow-pitch softball. Like, the really awful kind, with no umpires and creeks running through left field. It worked, but it gave the game a glow of farce, of comic relief, of non-seriousness. That’s not how a season like this should have ended.
Say, Rafael Soriano got a pretty big out for the Nats after all that Barrett weirdness, needing only one pitch to end the inning. The eighth inning was terrifying — a runner at second base with one out — but no one scored then, either. Come to think of it, Soriano also did well for himself during the 18-inning marathon. Still, where
Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen through all of that? Which reminds me.
Worst decision to put a rookie reliever in the most important situation of the season:
Matt Williams. Look, Barrett’s been great. But this isn’t about choosing between excellence in Jordan Zimmermann and excellence in Drew Storen. This was choosing a rookie, in an incredibly tense situation, while Tyler Clippard, Storen and Stephen Strasburg sat around in the bullpen. The amazing thing about postseason baseball is that you play every good card in your hand, flinging your best players into the fray, one after another. That moment was made for one of the team’s very best pitchers. That’s not Barrett, not yet.
Worst path to home:
Buster Posey got thrown out at the plate twice in this series, both times within moments of the Giants coming back to tie the game or go ahead. Of course, the Giants ultimately won both those games.
Best No. 6 hitter:
Uh. Bryce Harper? I guess? Maybe. He got Washington on the board with an RBI double in the fifth after taking two tough pitches with a two-strike count. Then he hit his third home run of the series, taking Hunter Strickland way out of the stadium to tie the game in the seventh. The entire thing looked absurd, kids blasting Wiffle balls comically high up on some suburban rooftop. That also meant Washington’s final three runs of the season came off Harper’s bat, dating from Game 3.
Jayson Werth was happy to see Harper in the dugout. So he attempted to jiggle his innards whilst dancing a polka. It turned out to be the last happy moment of the season.
Best censors: Quick work, Fox Sports 1 engineers. Quick, but extended, work. Man, what were the Nats saying in their dugout after that Harper homer? Musta been naughty.
Hunter Pence robbed Jayson Werth of extra bases at the wall in the sixth. This was the last batter Ryan Vogelsong would face.
Best fan reaction: That made fans happy. Especially this fan. At least, I think he’s happy. (Via @cjzero)
Worst missed opportunity: In the fifth inning against a tiring starter, Washington had Bryce Harper on second with no outs. Wilson Ramos couldn’t move him over, and despite a two-out walk, Harper ended the inning still on second when Denard Span grounded out.
Best escape: The Giants had the bases loaded with one out in the fifth inning, already up by one. Then Tanner Roark and Jerry Blevins at least temporarily saved the season. Roark got Pablo Sandoval to pop up harmlessly on a 2-0 change-up. Blevins came in and struck out Brandon Belt. He retired the Giants in order in the next inning. After being a question mark for the postseason roster, Blevins pitched 3 1/3/ innings without allowing a walk or a hit.
Worst beginning: The Nationals were no-hit through four innings. By Ryan Vogelsong. Meaning Ryan Vogelsong did not allow any hits to the Nationals through four innings. No runs, either. No runs OR hits. Against Ryan Vogelsong. The last two times the Nats faced Vogelsong, they got 13 hits and nine runs in a bit more than 11 innings. This time, they finished with two hits and one run in 5 2/3 innings.
Worst smoothly functioning infield machine:
The Nats’ opted for wacky infield defense multiple times. In the fifth inning, Adam LaRoche threw home on a grounder with runners on first and third, but no one was running home. That loaded the bases. And in the second inning there was all sorts of weirdness. First a pop-up got seized by the wind, and so what seemed like Anthony Rendon’s ball suddenly wound up in LaRoche’s glove. Then a groundball up the middle bounced crazily past Gio Gonzalez. And then a bunt from the pitcher….well, that deserves its own entry.
Worst bunting defense:
Three times in this series, ordinary bunts became disasters. The Giants were sparked in Game 1 when Adam LaRoche went to second on a bunt but failed to record an out. The Nats won Game 3 after Madison Bumgarner threw the ball to San Jose on a Wilson Ramos bunt, scoring two runs. And the Giants got their first runs in Game 4 when Gio Gonzalez and Anthony Rendon couldn’t decide who was fielding a Ryan Vogelsong bunt in the second inning, and so no one did, loading the bases. San Francisco wound up with two runs. (That meant of the first 15 runs scored in this series, six involved misplayed bunts.)
Best….costume, I guess: Is that what this is? Or is that natural?
Worst bases-loaded result: Another postseason bases-loaded walk from Gio Gonzalez. This one came on four pitches, and gave San Francisco the early lead.
Best settling down: Thousands were ready to give up on Gio Gonzalez after his rocky second inning, and understandably so. But the sometimes emotional left-hander settled down, putting the Giants down in order in the third and fourth innings before he was removed for a pinch hitter.
Worst in-game interview: The only interesting thing that ever happens during in-game broadcast interviews is when teammates throw stuff at the guy getting interviewed. But maybe they don’t do that during the playoffs. So Tim Hudson’s in-game interview just allowed the Fox Sports 1 announcers to temporarily ignore the actual game in favor of a boring conversation about nothing with Tim Hudson. I’d rather listen to baseball players throwing sunflower seeds and bubble gum into buckets. (A later interview with Doug Fister was no better, for the record.)
Worst streak: And so, aside from D.C. United, Washington remains without a major professional championship since the 1992 Super Bowl, continuing one of the longest streaks in America’s big league cities. And even teams that finish at the top of the standings can’t seem to get close; no Washington team has even made a final four since the 1998 Capitals. And while 2012 felt like a “wait till next year!” kind of ending, this one will leave a harsher aftertaste.