In a 2-2 count, Brandon Belt watched a close fastball from Tanner Roark go by for ball three. On the next pitch, Belt whipped his bat through, dropped it immediately and watched the ball fly.
It landed in the second deck in right field, breaking a 1-1 tie in the top of the 18th inning. And it sent the Giants to a 2-1 win and a 2-0 lead in their National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals – the decisive swing in the longest game in postseason history.
“This year, when I wasn’t playing so much, that’s kind of the stuff I thought about just to kind of keep my head in there and stay positive,” Belt said. “It’s kind of what you dream about your whole life growing up as a kid. It was just an awesome feeling.”
Hunter Strickland got Jayson Werth to fly out for the game’s final out after 6 hours and 23 minutes, the longest game by time in postseason history and the second ever to go 18 innings. The series now shifts to AT&T Park, where the Giants can try to clinch behind ace Madison Bumgarner in Game 3 on Monday.
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“It’s one of the best games I’ve ever been a part of,” said Giants catcher Buster Posey. “I think everybody’s just so exhausted. I can’t say enough about how good our pitching was.
“I don’t think people understand how hard it is to pitch extra innings on the road – everything’s magnified. One mistake and the game’s over. So to go nine extra innings without allowing a run is remarkable.”
Six of those innings were delivered by right-hander Yusmeiro Petit, who entered in the 12th and allowed one hit while throwing 80 pitches to earn the win in his playoff debut.
“The job he did was unbelievable,” Posey said.
Petit had been an option to start a potential Game 4 for the Giants. The bottom line now, though, after the Giants extended their N.L.-record postseason win streak to 10 straight games, is that a fourth game in this series is not a certainty.
“It’s big,” Posey said of the Giants’ 2-0 lead. “But we were on the flipside of it a couple (of) years ago. So I think we understand that until you get that last win, you’ve got to go out and play the game.”
A Game 4 appeared likely for much of Saturday as Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann was retiring 20 consecutive batters to come within one out of a complete-game shutout. But after Zimmermann walked Joe Panik with two outs in the ninth, Nationals manager Matt Williams opted to bring in closer Drew Storen to face Posey with a 1-0 lead.
“If (Zimmermann) got in trouble in the ninth or got a baserunner, we were going to bring our closer in,” Williams said. “That’s what we have done all year.”
Posey lined Storen’s first pitch for a single to left-center, and Sandoval then laced a pitch into the left-field corner. Panik scored easily to tie the game. Posey was waved in as well by third-base coach Tim Flannery, but shortstop Ian Desmond’s relay throw beat him to the plate and Posey was called out on a bang-bang play.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy challenged the call, but it stood after a replay review. That preserved the tie, and Sergio Romo retired the Nationals in the bottom of the ninth to take the game into extra innings, part of 10 2/3 scoreless innings hurled by Giants relievers.
“I haven’t had a chance to look at (a replay), to be honest,” Bochy said of the play at the plate. “(But) it is obvious we were very disappointed. It did look like he was safe.”
Panik’s run still erased the possibility of a win for Zimmermann, who had thrown a no-hitter in his last start of the season and did not allow a hit Saturday after Travis Ishikawa’s single to lead off the third. The Giants, though, remained in striking distance thanks to Tim Hudson, who pitched into the eighth, matched his season-high with eight strikeouts and allowed only an RBI single by Anthony Rendon in the third inning.
When rosters were introduced before Game 1 of this series, no Giants player got a louder reaction than Hudson, who was met with a chorus of boos from a crowd at Nationals Park that has grown accustomed to seeing the right-hander torment its team. Hudson entered with an 18-5 record and 2.35 ERA in 31 career starts against Washington, but also had an 8.27 ERA in his last five starts of the regular season for the Giants.
Saturday, the right-hander looked more like his midseason self. He seemed to generate good movement on his pitches and allowed only one extra-base hit, a third-inning double by Asdrubal Cabrera, who scored on Rendon’s single. Neither Cabrera nor Williams were around by game’s end. Both were ejected for arguing balls and strikes in the 10th inning.
As it turned out, plenty of game remained.
The Giants wasted a leadoff double by Hunter Pence in the top of the 12th. In the bottom of that inning, Petit walked his first hitter, Ian Desmond, on four pitches, and Desmond tagged up on Bryce Harper’s fly ball to center. But after striking out Wilson Ramos and intentionally walking Nate Schierholtz, Petit got Danny Espinosa to line out to end the inning.
Adam LaRoche hit a drive to right off Petit in the 15th that got a rise out of what remained of a crowd of 44,035, but it died short of the warning track. That made Belt’s shot in the 18th -- in addition to being the footnote on a historic night -- all the more impressive.
“All the balls that were flying to me (in right) were getting knocked down,” said Pence. “He’s got some extremely big pop.”