Washington Nationals' starter Jordan Zimmermann was up to 100 pitches even, having retired twenty straight San Francisco Giants' hitters when he issued a two-out walk to Joe Panik in the top of the ninth inning of Game 2 of the NLDS in Washington, D.C.'s Nationals Park.
With Zimmermann one out away from a complete game shutout, Nats' skipper Matt Williams walked out of the dugout and called to his bullpen, bringing closer Drew Storen on to face catcher Buster Posey and try to get the final out of a 1-0 game in which Zimmermann was dominant, giving up nothing after a leadoff single by Giants' outfielder Travis Ishikawa in the third.
Posey singled on a line drive to center and Giants' slugger Pablo Sandoval followed with a game-tying RBI double to left field that tied the game up at 1-1. Posey was thrown out at home on the play, and after the Nationals failed to score in the bottom of the ninth, it went to extra innings.
"Why did we decide to take him out?" Williams asked rhetorically afterwards, looking back on the decision he made approximately three hours into what ended up a six hour, twenty-three-minute, eighteen-inning, 2-1 loss that put the Nats in a 2-0 hole in the best of five division series.
"Why did we decide to take him out? Because if he got in trouble in the ninth or got a baserunner, we were going to bring our closer in. That is what we have done all year. [Zimmermann] got the first two guys, he wasn't going to face Posey. Buster lined out to third the previous at-bat. Saw the ball pretty good off [Zimmermann] all night long. We decided to go to the closer."
Did the long fly ball Panik hit before he walked or anything in Zimmermann's final at bat lead Williams to believe a move was necessary or was it just the plan to go to Storen if anyone reached?
"That is the plan," the first-year skipper said.
"If he gets to the ninth, gets in trouble, we are going to the closer anyway. Like I said, he got through the first couple of guys. You know, the walk, certainly gave Drew some leeway, Buster with the single and Pablo with the double, but, you know, Drew has been perfect in those situations since he's been our closer and that's the time to go to him."
"Hindsight is a great thing," Williams explained when another reporter asked about the decision. "You know, if, if your starting pitcher goes out there and he's at 100 pitches, third time, fourth time through the lineup and he gets in trouble in the ninth, we will go to the guy who has been perfect for us since he has been in that role.
"It didn't work out. That is what we had planned for in the ninth. That is the way we went."
Posey singled to center on the first pitch from Storen and Sandoval went the other way with an 0-1 fastball outside, lining it to left to bring in the tying run.
"I haven't seen the pitch to Buster," Williams said when asked about the two hits off Storen.
"I know what it was, a fastball away, off the end of the bat for a single.
"The pitch to [Sandoval] is a ball going down, but it is middle of the plate. He missed location. You know, [Bryce Harper] made a nice play getting the ball to [Ian Desmond], able to throw Buster out at the plate, and kept it at one. We had opportunities beyond that.
"But the ball was middle of the plate to Pablo. He stayed on it good."
Game 2 of the NLDS went to extra innings, nine of them in fact, in what eventually became the longest game in MLB postseason history, and in the top of the eighteenth, Giants' first baseman Brandon Belt hit a 3-2 fastball from Tanner Roark out to right and into the second deck above the Nationals' bullpen to make it 2-1 San Francisco.
With the win, the Giants took a commanding 2-0 lead in the series with Game 3 on Monday afternoon in AT&T Park.
Williams said there was no option now but to bounce back and win out.
"We don't have a choice now," he said. "You know, it's a must-win for us. We will get the day off tomorrow, and see if we can win in Game 3. Then we must win Game 4 and hopefully get it back here. That is all we can do at this point."