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Best Postseason Games: 2014 NLDS Game 2

What’s better than one playoff game? Two playoff games in one!

San Francisco Giants’ Brandon Belt (9) hits a solo home run against the Washington Nationals in the 18th inning at Nationals Park for Game 2 of their NLDS series in Washington D.C., on Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group) Photo by MediaNews Group/Bay Area News via Getty Images

Full disclaimer: I didn’t start watching this game until the 12th inning. My life was a bit chaotic at the time, which is to be expected when you move to a new city, start a graduate program, and get mugged at gunpoint in the span of three weeks. I was finishing up The Buddha of Suburbia for one of my classes, and I frankly didn’t have time to watch the game.

Or at least, I was trying to finish it. The reality is I’d been reading and rereading the same paragraph for about an hour. Turns out that having a gun pointed at you and your roommate can be a tad traumatizing and mess with your ability to concentrate.

At some point, I gave up and pulled up on my laptop to find out whether the Giants won or loss Game 2 of the NLDS against the Washington Nationals. That was when I saw the game was still going, tied at 1-1 in the bottom of the 12th, with Yusmeiro Petit pitching for the Giants.

So, I pulled up a stream and started watching.

Let’s step back and provide some context for the game. In Game 1, the Giants pulled off a nail-biter with a 3-2 win, giving San Francisco a 1-0 series lead and sowing the seeds for Hunter Strickland’s slow-burn meltdown. Heading into Game 2, the Giants now had the opportunity to steal both games in Washington, D.C., before heading home for the rest of the series.

It’s hard to undersell what this advantage would mean: Although the Giants ultimately got decent starts from Jake Peavy, Tim Hudson, and Ryan Vogelsong in the series, it was clear the starting pitching behind Madison Bumgarner was running on fumes, and the possibility of a Game 5 rematch between Peavy and Stephen Strasburg was (to put it mildly) less than desirable. And since the Nationals hadn’t yet made their pact with the baseball devils in order to never lose another away game in the playoffs, the Giants would now have three chances to clinch the series at Oracle AT&T Park.

Unfortunately, the Giants would have to deal with Jordan Zimmermann first.

That, of course, is the same Zimmermann who threw a no-hitter in the last game of the regular season, but that only tells a fraction of the story. For the months of August and September, Zimmermann was lights out. Across his last 11 starts of the season, he recorded a ridiculous 69 strikeouts to eight walks on his way to a 1.81 ERA. Batters were hitting a measly line of .205/.235/.289, and the Nationals won all 11 of his starts. He was easily the hottest pitcher coming into the playoffs.

One of those 11 starts, it should be noted, came against the Giants. Zimmermann was spectacular in that game (8 IP, 2 ER, 0 BB, 8 K), but at least the Giants managed to get seven hits against him.

In Game 2, the Giants only managed three hits against the Nationals co-ace: a single by Buster Posey in the 1st, a single by Hunter Pence in the 2nd, and a single by literally Travis Ishikawa in the 3rd. After that, it was pure fecklessness, as Zimmermann retired the next 20 freaking batters in a row.

Sure, the Nationals only scored one run, thanks to an RBI single by future clutch god-king Anthony Rendon, but they clearly didn’t need more than that. The series would be tied 1-1, Strasburg would pitch Game 5, and a miserable second half would end with a miserable playoff defeat. In short, the Giants were doomed.

All Zimmermann had to do was get one last batter out.

Before we get to the madness that ensued, let’s give a shoutout to the Giants pitching pre-Petit. Like the Giants, Tim Hudson had trailed off in the second half, but he hunkered down to throw one of his best starts of the season, limiting the Nationals lineup to seven hits and one run over 7.1 innings while notching eight strikeouts. Once the bullpen took over, it was more of the same: Jean Machi, Javier Lopez, Sergio Romo, Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla, and Strickland combined for 4.2 innings, allowing one hit, one walk, and no runs to go with five strikeouts.

And, of course, there was Yusmeiro Petit, but more on that later.

Also, a special shoutout to the Giants offense, which managed—hold on, let me review my statistical analysis here…

…eight hits. In 18 innings.

Your San Francisco Giants, everyone!

Matt Williams, I am sure, is a decent person who deserves only good things. As a player, he was a fantastic member of some fantastic Giants teams, and he indirectly spurred one of the greatest quotes in baseball history. He was also a good manager, at least according to the 30 members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America who selected him as the National League Manager of the Year in 2014. (Bruce Bochy finished a distant third in voting that year.)

All that said, he sure f***ed it up in the 9th, didn’t he?

The eyeball test has fallen out of favor in recent years with the advancement of advanced stats, and for good reason. Over a sample size of 162 games, computer-generated statistical models are more likely to produce better results than human managers.

But the playoffs are a different beast, and there’s something to be said for the human element. Making your exhausted ace pitch five innings on two days’ rest is probably, from an analytical perspective, pretty dumb. But Bochy saw, as we all saw, that even against a depleted Bumgarner, the Kansas City Royals couldn’t touch him. So, Bochy left him in.

Zimmermann was rolling. Sure, he just walked Joe Panik, but that was the first Giants hitter to reach base since the 3rd inning. The third freaking inning. Even at 100 pitches, there was no reason Zimmermann couldn’t face another batter.

Instead, Williams lifted him for Drew Storen.

One pitch later, Buster Posey hit a single.

Two pitches later, Pablo Sandoval hit a double.

Was Posey safe? I don’t know. It doesn’t really matter. I wouldn’t have been able to catch the game if he was, though.

Zimmermann was charged with the run.

Petit is one of those unsung players who won’t appear on any “Top 10 Giants of the Decade” lists—which, if I’m being objective, is probably fair. He is, at most, a glorified long reliever. One who nearly threw a perfect game and retired an MLB record 46 batters in a row, but a long reliever nonetheless.

However, I’m going to say it here: The Giants don’t win the World Series without Petit.

Game 2 is Exhibit A. I don’t know what kind of mental and physical fortitude it takes to go from “I’m a reliever!” to “I’m pitching a starter’s worth of innings right now!” But as the Giants offense continued to flounder, Petit made sure they kept getting chances to flounder some more. He finished with six innings and seven strikeouts while allowing only one hit.

Petit wasn’t perfect, though. And I’m not referring to the three walks he gave up.


Woo, that was close—


Woo, that was—


Oh thank God.

Whether it was luck or skill or a mix of both, the flyballs stayed in the park, and Petit left the game a hero.

Okay, this is the part you’ve been waiting for.

By the top of the 18th inning, it was a brand new day. Literally. The clock ticked past midnight, and Game 2 of the 2014 NLDS officially became the longest playoff game in MLB history at five hours and 53 minutes. (It would last another 30 minutes.)

It was also Tanner Roark’s birthday. For Roark’s 28th birthday, Brandon Belt decided to do this.

I could talk about a clutch moment by a good baseball player, but the fact is this was Belt’s only hit in seven at-bats, and a real first baseman like Brett Pill would have hit five home runs and 15 RBIs. #BeltWars #NotMyFirstBaseman #YourMoveAtheists

When your world is spinning, there’s something strangely reassuring about how ridiculous baseball can be—and this game was as ridiculous as they get. Game 2 featured a combined 17 pitchers who threw 485 pitches. The teams had a combined 129 plate appearances but reached base a mere 25 times. There were three runs. In 18 innings. Taking a total of six hours and 23 minutes.

This game was a microcosm of why I—why we—love this sport and this team. It didn’t fix my problems—it took a few rounds of therapy to do that—but it offered an oasis, a place where I could just laugh and laugh as I watched one inning after another after another after another after another after another after another of dumb, infuriating, ridiculous, incredible baseball. And really, what more can you ask for from an 18-inning game?