Last night was tough. No doubt about it.
A sunny and cool afternoon turned into a cold and cruel evening at Nationals Park, as we were reminded that sometimes the best managers do nothing in critical situations. They trust their players.
Matt Williams is a rookie manager who has had a fine run in his first year, leading the Nats to the best record in the National League. But in what was close to a do-or-die game last evening, he over-managed. And we were reminded that he is still a rookie.
Jordan Zimmermann was one out away from completing two of the most stunning back-to-back pitching performances in baseball history. How to follow-up a no-hitter on the final day of the regular season? Oh, how about taking a 3-hitter within one out of a complete game shutout when your team is down one game in the NLDS. He had easily handled the heart of the Giants order the last two times he faced them, so who cares if their 3-4-5 hitters are coming up. Zimm had proven he could take them.
But he never got the chance. After one in a series of questionable ball-strike calls this series, he walked a man – his first of the evening. He was at 100 pitches, which is 4 less than he threw last Sunday. Matt Williams pops up out of the dugout and signals for closer Drew Storen – he of the 2012 NLDS nightmare. He doesn’t even give Zimmermann the chance to talk him out of it, as he did with Doug Fister in the last week of the season.
And, you know the rest. Storen gives up two hits that tie the game. The first nine was such fun, let’s play another nine – which takes about twice as long! Candice and I finally have to abandon the stadium after 11 because it was so cold and the winds were whipping through us. (Plus, not being in our regular seats, we were tired of the beer from the “fans” (and I use that term loosely) behind us ending up on our seats, not to mention the rally towels hitting us in the head.)
We “watched” on my iPhone while taking the metro to Silver Spring and made it home for the 14th, where we turned on the radio. (Don’t get me started about the stupidity of MLB putting postseason games on networks where you have to buy premium cable packages. That’s no way to build up a fan base.) And we were in bed “watching” again on the MLB app on the iPhone when Belt hit his home run in the 18th.
All of that never should have happened. Matt should have pulled a Johnny Keane, who – when asked after the seventh game of the 1964 World Series why he stayed with Bob Gibson in the 9th although he was obviously tiring – said, “I had a commitment to his heart.”
Zimm, we were there with you. Just wish your manager had been there as well.
More to come…