The temperature at Nationals Park, a cool 61 degrees at first pitch on Saturday evening, dipped noticeably as the sun went down and the innings wore on. And there were quite a few innings to wear on -- 18 total in the Giants’ 2-1 win, 11 already by the time Yusmeiro Petit entered in relief for the Giants.
Petit, the control artist who had a 10-game stretch earlier this season in which he recorded 47 strikeouts and one walk, issued a four-pitch walk to the first batter he faced, Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond. It occurred almost as quickly as Petit’s explanation afterward of the out-of-character event.
“I don’t feel the ball,” he said.
It was cold enough, in other words, that even after warming up in the bullpen, the right-hander needed a batter to gain enough feeling in his fingers to control his pitches. From there, Petit was the one putting the freeze on the Nationals.
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Brandon Belt’s home run was the dramatic, decisive blow in the longest game in major-league postseason history (6 hours, 23 minutes). But Petit’s performance may have been the most crucial – six innings of scoreless relief in which he allowed just one hit, walked three and struck out seven.
Petit entered in the 12th inning and faced 22 batters while throwing 80 pitches, any one of which could have been the last of the game. As catcher Buster Posey said afterward, that is something many people don’t grasp about the difficulty of pitching in extra innings on the road. The margin for error is nonexistent.
“Everything’s magnified,” Posey said. “One mistake the game’s over.”
And in Petit’s case, this was a pitcher who down the stretch was starting for the Giants, making Saturday’s circumstances even more foreign.
“Being a starting pitcher – (Jake) Peavy was saying this earlier – you never pitch like that,” said right fielder Hunter Pence. “You’re pitching to contain a game, give your team a chance to win, but there’s literally no room for error.”
On top of that, it was Petit’s postseason debut. But the right-hander, who has shuttled in between starting and relieving throughout his career, handled the pressure deftly – after he finally regained the feeling in his fingers.
“After that, I can figure out my stuff,” Petit said.
Bryce Harper followed Desmond’s walk with a flyout deep enough to center field that Desmond tagged up and took second. Petit struck out Wilson Ramos, then intentionally walked Nate Schierholtz before getting Danny Espinosa to line out to Brandon Crawford.
From there, he allowed just a two-out single by Jayson Werth in the 13th and a two-out walk to Denard Span in the 15th. He struck out the side in the 14th and walked off of the mound pumping his fist and pounding his glove. He said the coaches began checking in with him after his fourth inning on his condition, but he went out for two more.
“We knew he was good for around 80 pitches,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “He got us there. What a great job he did.
“I was trying to get as much as I could out of him.”
Petit had an ice pack wrapped around his arm and dripping on the floor in the clubhouse after the game, but showed no ill effects from his 80 pitches exactly. He still wore the three-quarter sleeves he’d worn during the game – not much to keep out the chill. He gave only a small smile when asked if this was the biggest game of his life.
“No question,” he said softly.
Across the room, Tim Hudson, who had started the game for the Giants and exited after 7 1/3 innings, mused about the challenge of extra innings on the road. “It’s sudden death,” he said. “You have to never give in, in a situation like that.
“Petit, he done a job. He really stepped up and showed us what he was all about tonight.”
• There was so much to cover from this historic, marathon affair, and the game story tries to hit most of it. Belt’s swing was huge, coming on a full-count fastball by Tanner Roark and landing in the second deck of seats beyond the right-field wall at Nationals Park.
Belt dropped his bat immediately as he watched the ball’s flight. He was told afterward it was a pretty stylish bat-drop.
“Was it?” Belt said. “I don’t even remember. It’s all a blur. I’m not kidding. I saw that thing go out and started rounding the bases, I really didn’t know what was happening at that point.”
One thing Belt did know was that his homer had decided the longest game in postseason history. Hunter Strickland’s final pitch came 6 hours, 23 minutes after the first thrown by Jordan Zimmermann, and more than three hours after Pablo Sandoval tied the game in the ninth with a two-out, RBI double.
Still, Belt said, “It was a long game, but I really don’t remember getting tired.
“I think before that last at-bat, I had a sugar-free Red Bull so I was good to go,” Belt said. “But in this type of atmosphere, this type of game, it was a lot easier to stay focused.”
Belt said he usually drinks a Red Bull before games and did so Saturday. “And then I had one before the seventh at-bat,” he said. “So, attribute that to Red Bull.”
• In seriousness, there had been several deep fly balls in extra innings – notably ones by the Nationals’ Anthony Rendon and Adam LaRoche – that died before they reached the wall. Pence, playing in right field, remarked that, “It was heavy air, ball wasn’t carrying much out there.”
That, Pence said, made Belt’s no-doubter all the more remarkable.
“He’s got some extremely big pop,” Pence said. “You know he’s got a lot of power. That was very impressive, especially with all the balls that were flying to me and were getting knocked down.”
• Belt might not have been tired afterward -- the Red Bull, maybe -- but one player who definitely had a right to be was Posey. After catching a nearly four-hour game on Friday, Posey was behind the plate for all 18 innings in Game 2. The last time that happened?
“College, I think I did,” Posey said. “Eighteen innings is one thing, but when you add the postseason intensity on top of that, I think mentally as much as physically, just drained.”
Posey’s night wasn’t limited to action behind the plate, either. He was thrown out twice on the basepaths, most notably at home on Sandoval’s game-tying double in the ninth. Posey tried to score from first and motioned “safe” as he slid across the plate, but after reviewing the original “out” call, the umpires upheld their ruling.
Posey said he hadn’t seen a replay. Bochy said he hadn’t, either, but from his original view and what he heard from the Giants’ replay booth, “It looked like he was safe.”
Instead, Posey went on to catch the equivalent of another full game, nine more innings. Afterward, his voice was tired and tinged with relief. But he did say of the Giants’ win: “It’s one of the best games I’ve ever been a part of.”
• Sandoval’s ninth-inning double ruined a sparkling night by Jordan Zimmermann, the Nationals starter who had retired 20 batters in a row before walking Joe Panik with two outs in the ninth.
Despite that, with Posey coming up, Nationals manager Matt Williams decided to bring in closer Drew Storen. Zimmermann was at just 99 pitches, but Williams afterward said he defended the move.
“If (Zimmermann) got in trouble in the ninth or got a baserunner, we were going to bring our closer in,” Williams said. “He got the first two guys, he wasn’t going to face Posey. Buster lined out to third the previous at-bat, saw the ball pretty good off him all night long. We decided to go with the closer.”
Hudson, watching from the Giants’ dugout, said he wasn’t surprised by the move. But he added:
“They could’ve brought in Sandy Koufax and we probably would’ve had a smile on our face, just because (Zimmermann) was really good on us. He was tough.”
Posey singled and Sandoval doubled to tie the game.
“But Storen, I mean, he’s been a stud for them all year,” Hudson said. “You can’t fault anybody for bringing a guy in like that.”
• Ironically, Hudson has now started the only two 18-inning games in MLB postseason history. He was on the losing side Oct. 9, 2005, when the Houston Astros beat the Atlanta Braves, 7-6, in 18 innings.The notebook gets into that
• What did the Giants’ dugout feel when Belt’s home run cleared the wall?
“Relief,” Bochy said.
“Initial reaction is pure happiness,” Panik said.
“It was a relief, a big relief,” Pence said. “But we still had three more outs in our inning, and we had to get them out as well.”
The Giants did – Hunter Strickland recorded the final three for his first postseason save – and the Giants now return home with a 2-0 series lead and a chance to clinch behind ace Madison Bumgarner on Monday.
As Posey pointed out, though, the Giants know from 2012 that a 2-0 lead in a best-of-five isn’t a guarantee. They have Sunday (or what’s left of it after they arrive home) to rest up and recuperate. First pitch in that game is still TBD.