The day after, it all still feels like such a blur.
Going on midnight along the Anacostia River on Saturday, how a standing-room-only shutout somehow morphed into a maddening, 18-inning marathon and very possibly the premature end of another Washington Nationals postseason is still inconceivable.
Jordan Zimmermann had that win, didn’t he?
Matt Williams can’t take out a pitcher who retired 20 batters in a row before allowing one measly walk, can he?
Now, the Nationals must win Game 3 in San Francisco Monday — must, in fact, win three games in a row — or their postseason dreams will again come to an abrupt and frustrating end.
The Nationals’ first-year manager botched an opportunity for a much-needed victory in Game 2, which instead became two full nine-inning contests, a 6 hour 23 minute docudrama — the longest postseason contest in major league history. San Francisco’s Brandon Belt finally hit a mammoth home run that disappeared into the right field stands off Tanner Roark for a 2-1 victory in Game 2 of the National League Division Series.
“Any time you make a decision on something and it doesn’t work, you kick yourself,” Williams told reporters Sunday in San Francisco. “I kicked myself all night. That’s human nature.”
And although it’s also human nature to second-guess, Williams didn’t back down from his original choice; he just wished the outcome were different.
“. . . You have to put your guys in a position to do their jobs and do what they do,” he said Sunday. “So that being said, I don’t have a problem with it. It didn’t work out. But we’ve got our best guy [Drew Storen], who is the closer coming in to pick up the guy that just gave us all he had for eight and two-thirds [innings].”
Instead, nine innings later, the home team’s fans, their faces numb and wind-burned, trudged the stairs toward the exits at Nationals Park, gradually moving toward another winter of shock and disbelief.
Really, how do their heavenly NL East champions keep hitting October only to look so hellish? It was quiet. It was cold. It was likely over.
It would be remiss not to enter the interview scrum in the Nationals’ clubhouse and ask Storen whether blowing the save brought back any flashbacks from 2012. That’s when the Nationals entered the postseason with the best record in baseball before, incredibly, blowing a 6-0 lead to give away Game 5 against the St. Louis Cardinals. Storen gave up four ninth-inning runs that night in front of many of the same hollow-looking souls who stayed for the bitter end Saturday night. So was it deja Drew?
“Absolutely not,” Storen said firmly, quickly.
Having shadowed Storen after his meltdown two years ago, seeing the shell-shocked look of a closer who lost his confidence and his club’s season on the same night, I wanted no other player in baseball to get the last out Saturday night.
But he didn’t. And if Storen wasn’t thinking about 2012 after giving up two hits to allow the tying run in the ninth, he had to be thinking about it during and after the nine innings that followed.
They all had to be thinking of 2012.
Zimmermann. Jayson Werth. Ryan Zimmerman. Adam LaRoche. Ian Desmond. Stephen Strasburg. Bryce Harper. Gio Gonzalez. Tyler Clippard. All the key contributors to two NL East titles in three years, now suddenly a loss away from the offseason, without so much as a postseason series victory, much less a World Series appearance.
Which makes Game 2’s loss even more infuriating. Zimmermann, the horse on the mound who mowed through the Giants’ lineup almost as brilliantly as he had in no-hitting the Marlins on the last day of the regular season, should have remained in the game with two outs in the ninth inning.
We knew Saturday night and we know it now, no matter how many times Williams tells us hindsight is 20/20.
Zimmermann had given the 44,035 in attendance one of the greatest clutch postseason performances by a Washington athlete ever, a three-hit gem that all but evened the series at one game apiece.
That’s when Williams unbelievably decided to give history the hook. In the biggest test of his rookie year on the job, Williams became an even bigger micro-manager. Instead of doing what he should have in the moment — let Zimmermann finish a stellar start with one man on base and a 1-0 lead — he called for Storen, who had been nails since seizing the closer job from Rafael Soriano.
Lost in the monotony of the innings that followed, Asdrubal Cabrera would eventually be ejected for throwing a hissy fit in front of plate umpire Vic Carapazza. Harper showed him up, too, and Williams got tossed shortly after coming out to argue on behalf of Cabrera.
Yes, there were some close pitches, and indeed some that could have been called strikes. But this wasn’t Game 120 of the regular season. The lack of awareness displayed by Cabrera and Harper was inexcusable. Cabrera, who should have apologized to his teammates for being thrown out, showed little remorse afterward, seeming not to understand the gravity of taking his own bat out of the lineup at such a crucial moment.
Tim Hudson, the Giants’ Game 2 starter, seemed to question the Nationals’, uh, gumption before this series began, although he later backtracked, saying he was talking about his own team.
But after Williams managed his team to the ledge of their season and Cabrera’s brain lock added to the misery, a better question than Hudson’s could be asked: What do you have between your ears? It’s not what the Giants have right now — clear-thinking, head-in-the-game professionals who have been there, done that.
After the collapse of 2012 and the World-Series-or-bust hiccup of 2013, Washington was supposed to enter the playoffs as a team of seasoned pros coming into their prime as contenders.
What a false narrative that is turning out to be.
From the bad managerial moves of the last 24 hours, to Storen’s meltdown in the ninth inning and onto all the lousy discipline at the plate, we have the makings of another pretend-champion roster in Washington, another team that tells us it is ready but never actually shows us.
I hate it when gum-flapping right-handers from out of town are right. But if the Nationals don’t find a way to win their first postseason series, they are what Hudson said they were: unequipped to win it all — in ways that have nothing to do with a superior rotation, team batting average or depth.
If they can’t come back and beat the Giants, they will go down as no more than another cruel tease in a sports town already rife with them.
For more by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.