SAN FRANCISCO — A misplayed grounder that nearly went through the legs of pitcher Gio Gonzalez. A bases-loaded walk. A wild pitch that allowed the tiebreaking run to score.
The Washington Nationals made several crucial mistakes Tuesday night that cost them a chance to send the NL Division Series back home. Now, they’re headed into the offseason much sooner than rookie manager Matt Williams and his players expected after a 3-2 loss to the San Francisco Giants.
“It’s tender and it’s bitter and all of those things, but I’m proud of them,” said Williams, groomed in the Giants’ system as a player. “We established a way to go about this game in spring training and we accomplished that goal. We played the way we wanted to play and did a lot of things right.”
Aside from Bryce Harper, however, the Nats’ big bats hardly showed up in this all series. And a few frustrating plays will stay with them all winter.
“Am I surprised? Yeah, I’m definitely surprised,” shortstop Ian Desmond said. “We’ve believed in each other all year long. It was a hell of a fight. We lost to a good ballclub. To win you have to score runs.”
Joe Panik scored the go-ahead run in the seventh inning on Aaron Barrett’s bases-loaded wild pitch, and the wild-card Giants won the best-of-five series 3-1 by handing Washington its third one-run defeat.
After compiling the best record in the league, the NL East champions (96-66) never got on track at the plate against San Francisco. The offense scored only nine times in 45 innings during a pitching-dominated series that featured just 18 runs.
Santiago Casilla walked Harper with two outs in the ninth, then retired Wilson Ramos on a grounder to end it. Washington was knocked out in the Division Series for the second time in three years, while the Giants advanced to play the Cardinals in an NLCS rematch from 2012.
Game 1 is Saturday night in St. Louis.
Harper splashed a tying home run into McCovey Cove in the seventh, but Washington’s season ended just three days after that excruciating 2-1 loss in 18 innings to the Giants in Game 2.
Harper hit three home runs in the series, and his four career postseason homers tie Mickey Mantle, Miguel Cabrera and Andruw Jones for the most before age 22.
Adam LaRoche, Jayson Werth, Denard Span, Ramos and Desmond combined to go 9 for 89 with 24 strikeouts for a .101 average.
“That was the story of the series. None of us played like we’re capable of playing,” Span said. “They outplayed us. We didn’t swing the bats. It starts with me at the top of the lineup and I didn’t do my job.”
Just like a night earlier when Giants ace Madison Bumgarner’s one miscue cost his team the game, Barrett blew it this time.
After his wild pitch snapped a 2-all tie, Barrett got set to intentionally walk Pablo Sandoval. But the right-hander sailed a toss way over the head of Ramos, who quickly retrieved the ball near the backstop. Ramos threw to Barrett covering the plate, where he tagged out a sliding Buster Posey.
The call was upheld after a replay review of 1 minute, 57 seconds, denying San Francisco an insurance run.
Hunter Pence produced the play of the night when he slammed his back into an archway on the right-field wall to rob Werth of extra bases in the sixth.
“That catch he made was unreal. It really brought momentum back in our favor,” Posey said.
The very next inning, Pence could only watch as Harper hit a towering drive over the right-field arcade and between two boats among a large group of kayakers in the cove. It was the 104th splash homer at 15-year-old AT&T Park and third in the postseason.
Hunter Strickland, the rookie reliever who gave up Harper’s solo home run to the third deck in the seventh inning of Game 1 and then later said he would challenge the young slugger again if given the chance, got his opportunity Tuesday and paid for it.
Harper crushed a 3-1 pitch from Strickland and appeared to give the pitcher a look as he rounded the bases. Harper celebrated in the dugout and shouted out toward the field.
“It’s a 2-1 game, I hit the home run in the seventh, of course I’m going to go crazy. I don’t even know what I’m doing,” Harper said. “They beat us, so the home run was nothing.”
Strickland still did enough to earn his first postseason victory. Sergio Romo pitched a perfect eighth and Casilla closed it out before the celebration began at AT&T Park.
Giants starter Ryan Vogelsong didn’t allow a hit until Desmond’s leadoff single in the fifth. Harper followed with a sharp double down the left-field line to put Washington on the board.
Gonzalez found several ways to hurt himself in the second.
Brandon Crawford hit a one-out single before Gonzalez misplayed Juan Perez’s slow dribbler for an error. Vogelsong beat out a bunt single that went untouched and then Gregor Blanco drew a four-pitch walk to force home the first run.
Panik added an RBI groundout.
“It was like a changeup coming at me,” Gonzalez said about Perez’s dribbler. “I saw it all the way into my glove and then it kicked off. On the bunt down the line, I thought I heard ‘I got it’ but he was saying ‘1, 1, 1.’ I was still pounding the strike zone and I was still being aggressive. Two unearned runs — enough said.”
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