- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 5, 2014

After the 18 innings were done, the issue was still the ninth.

The Washington Nationals have just sprinted to the edge of the cliff. They are down 2-0 in the best-of-five National League Division Series to the seasoned San Francisco Giants. Saturday night’s 2-1 loss, which stretched into Sunday morning, left the manager explaining, his dominant starter saying the right things and closer remorseful.

Jordan Zimmermann had thrown a no-hitter his final outing of the season. Saturday, he allowed a hit in the first inning, ending the watch for a second historical game. Though, he was almost as effective.

At 100 pitches in the top of the ninth with the Nationals holding a dental-floss-thin 1-0 lead, he was removed from the game. Manager Matt Williams came to get Zimmermann following a walk to Joe Panik, who had smashed a long fly ball foul before ball four came with two outs in the ninth.

Closer Drew Storen, who had not blown a save since taking over the role for deposed Rafael Soriano on Sept. 7, allowed consecutive hits and the game to be tied. A brilliant relay from Bryce Harper to Ian Desmond to Wilson Ramos at the plate cut down Giants catcher Buster Posey. After a replay review, the call of out stood and the Nationals walked deflated into the dugout, tied, but not behind.

The second-guessing of Williams‘ pitching change was instant, then amplified following the loss. He had predetermined what he would do.

SEE ALSO: SNYDER: Nationals’ cruel postseason education continues against Giants

“If [Zimmermann] got in trouble in the ninth or got a baserunner, we were going to bring our closer in,” Williams said. “That is what we have done all year. Got the first two guys, wasn’t going to face Posey. Buster lined out to third the previous at-bat. Saw the ball pretty good off him all night long. We decided to go with the closer.”

Posey singled in the first, hit a grounder to short and smacked a liner that third baseman Anthony Rendon caught in the seventh inning. The 1-for-3 evening off Zimmermann made Posey 4-for-18 (.222) lifetime against the right-hander. In a small sample size, he was 1-for-2 with two walks against Storen.

“I knew I was on a short leash and Drew was ready,” Zimmermann said. “I would like to stay out there, yes. But, I’m not going to disagree with anything skip does and it’s over with now.”

The Giants were pleased to see Zimmermann depart.

“Any time you have a pitcher that’s locked in as good as he is, and he’s making some great pitches on us all night, they could’ve brought in Sandy Koufax and we probably would’ve had a smile on our face,” San Francisco starter Tim Hudson said. “He was really good on us, he was tough.

“But Storen, he’s been a stud for them all year. You can’t fault anybody for bringing in a guy like that.”

Zimmermann talked with pitching coach Steve McCatty and Williams before the ninth inning. He informed both he felt good. He kept that feeling while getting the first two outs of the inning. Prior to walking Panik, Zimmermann had retired 20 consecutive batters. He allowed three hits all day.

“Inning before was pretty long, I got a little tight,” Zimmermann said. “I felt fine. Still felt strong. The ball was coming out good. Just a couple questionable pitches there to Panik. One I thought was a strike.”

Zimmermann was referring to a 1-0 fastball he thought was a strike. Three pitches later, Panik had walked and Zimmerman was leaving the game.

He watched another entire game — nine more innings in the cold that ended with starter Tanner Roark giving up an 18th-inning home run to Brandon Belt — from the clubhouse and dugout. The Nationals tied a postseason record by using nine pitchers. One by one, they joined Zimmermann as the longest game in postseason history, a double matinee of 6:23, trudged on.

“Just a normal, 18-inning game, I guess,” Zimmerman said.

Storen’s line had him picking up one out, the play at the plate. This was a night brewed by demons for him. The last time he was in a position to close out an NLDS game was Game 5 of the 2012 series against the St. Louis Cardinals. Storen went to the mound with a 7-5 lead then and left in a 9-7 hole. He said there were no flashbacks.

“Absolutely not,” Storen said. “I made quality pitches and they fell in.”

The Nationals were left to pack their bags for a dreary red-eye flight to San Francisco. They dressed mostly in silence, knowing being down 2-0 with Giants ace Madison Bumgarner waiting to face them Monday afternoon has them on the brink.

“We’re in a deep hole now,” Zimmermann said. “Our back’s against the wall. We’ve overcome a lot of things this year and we’re going to do our best to get out of this.”

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