National calamity

Washington Nationals reliever Craig Stammen says his team was facing “boredom and frustration” Saturday night, which might help explain its 2-1 loss in 18 innings.

The Nationals are supposed to be opposing the San Francisco Giants, but they’re not doing a very good job of that, having scored three runs in 27 innings and having won neither of the first two games at home. The Giants and frustration are ahead 2-0.

“The two worst things in baseball are boredom and frustration,” Stammen said, “and we were battling both of those tonight.”

You can understand the frustration, given the Nationals’ loss of a 1-0 lead in the ninth inning, and their inability to score. It’s hard to understand the boredom. Giants manager Bruce Bochy said, “That’s a game I’ll always remember;” maybe the best the Nats can do is forget it to reach some kind of closure.

But the Nats are close to another kind of closure — of their 96-win season. And for the second time in three years, it’s because of their failures in the ninth inning. Two years ago Drew Storen gave up four runs in the ninth of Game 5 and Saturday he gave up Pablo Sandoval’s game-tying double, which might have been game-winning if not for the Nats’ defense.

“Why did we decide to take (Jordan Zimmermann) out?” Nats manager Matt Williams repeated when asked what will be the most oft-asked question of this series, if the Nats don’t rally. “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.”

That was an answer long on defensiveness and short on insight, and one that shifted the defense as if it were facing a pull hitter. That might be what the Nationals “have done” all year, but their closer wasn’t always Storen. Rafael Soriano saved 32 games and Storen 11, and while Soriano lost the position on merit, Storen did bring that history into the game along with a 1.12 regular-season ERA.

Zimmermann had walked Joe Panik, which was a no-no, but he was only at 100 pitches — he topped that in 11 of his 32 starts this season. And from his 101st pitch on this year, Zimmermann had retired 16 of the 19 batters he faced without yielding an extra-base hit, like Sandoval’s double.

Zimmermann never threw No. 101 Saturday. Williams said Storen was coming in if Zimmermann “got in trouble … or got a baserunner on.” Fair enough. Is there a difference? Was Zimmermann in trouble? Because he certainly was when Storen was done. Buster Posey singled and Sandoval doubled, which means of the last seven postseason batters Storen has faced, four have hits, two have walks and one struck out. And the one was Cardinal pitcher Jason Motte.

It’s a fair question Williams didn’t answer well. It’s also true that if Williams had left Zimmermann in and Posey had hit a two-run homer, the same people asking now why he took him out would be asking why he left him in. But Williams’ non-answer is sure to evoke a vote of no-confidence — in the bullpen and in the person deciding when to use it.

Frustration won in the 10th, when Asdrubal Cabrera and Williams were ejected by home plate umpire Vic Carapazza. Cabrera didn’t like the strike call on 3-1, and it was borderline, but the 3-2 pitch was better and at the same height, and Cabrera stared at it as if Carapazza owed him one. Cabrera’s tantrum made the ejection automatic, and Williams followed.

There were 485 pitches in Saturday’s game, and maybe Carapazza didn’t bat 1.000 on his calls. But the Nats cited them all after the game — the 3-1 to Cabrera, one to Bryce Harper in the ninth, Zimmermann’s 1-0 to Panik in the ninth, the 2-2 that preceded Brandon Belt’s home run.

The Nats may even have been right on some of them, but if you can remember every little slight like that, there’s a bigger problem. This is no time to be aggrieved.

From the 10th on, the Nats were apparently bored, if Stammen is to be taken literally. Too bad. The game lasted long enough for Soriano to enter and exit without a decision, for reliever Yusmeiro Petit to reach his pitch count, for Hunter Strickland to become a closer, for Jayson Werth’s hair to grow even longer.

The Giants scored in the 18th, or the second ninth inning of Saturday’s game.

  • Dodgers 3, Cardinals 2: The year of the bullpens this is not in the postseason. Zack Greinke throws seven shutout innings, J.P. Howell loses the lead in two batters. And Pat Neshek gives it back in the bottom of the eighth.
    The postseason ERA for all 2014 bullpens is 3.97 through Saturday, 5.09 if you don’t count the Giants-Nats 18-inning game, which had 20 innings of relief and just one run.
    The Dodgers’ win was the seventh one-run game of the 10 played, which makes bullpen use even more relevant.
    The Dodgers are having problems with Matt Carpenter, who’s 4-for-8 with two doubles, two homers and half of the Cards’ 12 runs driven in. The Cardinals aren’t doing much better with Matt Kemp, who has five hits and Saturday’s game-winning homer.
    The Dodgers reportedly tried to trade Kemp and are lucky they didn’t. He hit nine of his 25 homers this year in September, and his post All-Star Game OPS of .971 was .211 points higher than his pre-All-Star Game .760.
    Both sides can be a mix of happy and disappointed heading to St. Louis: each side’s 1-1 could be 2-0. Or 0-2.

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