- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 4, 2014

When it finally ended, the gem and the blown save were all but forgotten. Saturday had crept into Sunday. One extra inning had become nine. Hope had dissolved, then lingered, then vanished into the chill of the October sky.

And then, reality set in for the Washington Nationals. A bleak, cold, wind-whipped reality.

After Jordan Zimmermann’s near-shutout, Matt Williams‘ questionable decision, Drew Storen’s letdown, two ejections, 17 hits, 15 relievers, 485 pitches and the type of emotional swing only October can provide, the Nationals boarded a plane to San Francisco knowing that their season soon might end.

In Game 2 of the National League Division Series, they lost to the San Francisco Giants, 2-1, in 18 gut-wrenching innings. Brandon Belt hit a solo home run to the second deck in right field off Tanner Roark to begin the 18th. Nationals Park went quiet. The situation became clear.

“Our backs are against the wall,” Denard Span said. “We’re going to see what we’re made of.”

At 6 hours and 23 minutes, Saturday’s loss was the longest postseason game in the history of major league baseball. It will go down in the record books for that. But it will also go down as something more important for the National League favorites and World Series hopefuls: a loss.

SEE ALSO: Asdrubal Cabrera, Matt Williams ejected in 10th inning

“I think everybody will be feeling the effects of this game tomorrow,” Jayson Werth said. “[We will] put ourselves back together and get ready for Game 3.”

In the crushing aura of the loss, there was also hope. The Nationals might have squandered the home-field advantage they worked so hard this season to obtain, digging themselves a significant hole against a battle-tested team in the process.

But as they traveled to San Francisco for one, and hopefully two, more games, some players viewed the deficit as an opportunity.

“Hey, look, it is what it is. It’s an ‘L’ in the books. There’s no moral victories. There shouldn’t be,” utility man Kevin Frandsen said. “But there is also opportunity ahead of us. I think it’ll be fun. We get to do it together. We can do something special.”

Before the mayhem started, Saturday’s game was a pitcher’s duel between Giants starter Tim Hudson and Zimmermann.

Six days after throwing the first no-hitter in Washington since 1933, Zimmermann turned in another gem, this time allowing just three hits over 8 2/3 innings. He struck out six batters and at one point retired 20 in a row.

And then he watched it go to waste.

After Zimmermann issued a two-out walk, Williams walked to the mound to remove him from the game, a move he said later was planned upon the first sight of trouble. As Storen jogged in from the bullpen, the final chapter in his redemption story seemed a near-certainty. After blowing a save in Game 5 of the NLDS, this was finally a chance to turn the page.

But in the Giants dugout, there was an opposite reaction.

“You have a pitcher that’s locked in as good as [Zimmermann] is, and he’s making some great pitches on us all night,” Hudson said. “They could’ve brought in Sandy Koufax and we probably would’ve had a smile on our face.”

Storen could not retire Buster Posey, the only batter he was brought in to face. Then he could not get out Pablo Sandoval, who doubled to left and brought the tying run home. The go-ahead run also nearly scored on the play, but Posey was thwarted by an excellent throw from Bryce Harper, relay from Ian Desmond and tag from Wilson Ramos. The play was upheld by an official’s review.

“Yeah, they’re down in the zone,” Storen said of the two pitches that resulted in hits. “They’re good hitters for a reason. Balls just dropped in.”

Storen’s blown save was only the beginning. In the tenth, Asdrubal Cabrera slammed his bat on the ground, ripped off his helmet and screamed at home plate umpire Vic Carapazza after three consecutive called strikes. He was promptly ejected. Williams climbed the dugout steps and came to Cabrera’s defense. He too was ejected.

“In this case, he slammed the bat to the ground,” crew chief Mike Winters told a pool reporter. “That’s going to be gone. Even in a game of this magnitude, he’s got to have enough self-control to not to that. He could’ve said his piece and left and probably stayed in the game.”

Ryan Zimmerman pinch-hit for the pitcher in the ensuing at-bat and singled to center field, but Denard Span hit into a double play to end to the inning.

It went on like that for seven more innings, two teams trading relievers and scoreless innings more than three hours after the game could have ended. The racing presidents ran a second time. The remaining fans, huddled in their seats, sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the 14th-inning stretch.

It seemed surreal at one point out there. I think it was the seventh inning,” Werth said, before pausing with a smile. “Or the seventeenth inning.”

As the offense struggled, Craig Stammen worked three scoreless innings. Rafael Soriano pitched a scoreless 16th. Roark finally took off his hoodie and jogged to the mound, the last line of defense, the man who would pitch until it ended. And with Belt’s homer, it did.

“He beat me,” Roark said.

Afterwards, Werth praised Washington’s pitching and knew where to assign the blame.

We scored one run,” he said. “That’s the story of this game.”

In a sullen clubhouse, the only sounds were of bags being zipped, bats rattling in carriers and duffels being loaded onto carts. The players barely spoke. They didn’t know what to say. 

They boarded a bus to Dulles Airport, then a flight to San Francisco, with their season squarely in the balance.

“The one thing [about] these situations and these moments in professional sports: it gives us a chance to do something special. And that’s kind of how we have to look at it,” Tyler Clippard said. “This is what the postseason’s all about.”

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