Zimmermann backs Williams' decision to pull him in ninth inning

Jordan Zimmermann passed the time after he exited in the ninth inning of Saturday night's Game 2 of the National League Division Series bouncing between the dugout and clubhouse, watching a parade of relievers travel down the tunnel from the field. Since the game lasted 18 innings - at 6 hours, 23 minutes, it was the longest postseason game by time in major league history - he had a lot of time to ponder what might have been.

But if you expected Zimmermann to second-guess manager Matt Williams' decision to pull him from a 1-0 game after he walked Giants second baseman Joe Panik with two down in the ninth, think again.

Jordan-Zimmermann-NLDS-2.jpgWhether he was toeing the company line, or speaking from the heart, Zimmermann said he understood and agreed with his skipper's call to the bullpen, even though it wound up backfiring badly in a marathon that resulted in the Nationals falling 2-1 and the Giants taking a commanding two games to none lead in the best-of-five NLDS.

"I'm not going to ever disagree with Matt," Zimmermann said. "He's the manager and he makes the decisions. I'd like to stay out there and get that last out, but Drew's been lights out all year and it just didn't work out today."

No it didn't, and it took another painfully frustrating nine innings - another whole game, in essence - for the self-fulfilling prophecy to come to pass.

Storen, who finished the season with 20 straight scoreless innings and took over the closer's role when Rafael Soriano faltered, gave up a game-tying double to Pablo Sandoval. The Giants might have ended it in regulation had a perfect relay through from left fielder Bryce Harper to shortstop Ian Desmond to catcher Wilson Ramos not cut down Buster Posey trying to score from first on Sandoval's shot into left - and it took a video replay review initiated by San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy to confirm that Ramos had tagged out Posey to preserve the 1-all tie.

Zimmermann was only at 100 pitches, and he'd eclipsed that total 10 times this season, the final time being his no-hitter in the regular season finale last Sunday. But Williams had seen enough and trusted his gut.

"Hindsight is a great thing," Williams said. "You know, if our starting pitcher goes out there, and he's at 100 pitches third time, fourth time, through the lineup and he gets in trouble in the ninth inning, we're going to go to the guy that's been perfect for us since he's been in that role. Didn't work out, but that's what we had planned for the ninth inning. That's the way we went."

Zimmermann had relied mostly on fastballs and took advantage of a gusty wind blowing from left to right field on a crisp fall evening when temperatures dipped to 50 degrees by the time the game ended.
"The first couple of innings, I was mixing up all of my pitches and then realized the wind was blowing in and the ball wasn't flying, so I stuck with the fastball and pretty much dared them to hit the ball out and came right after them," he said. "I always through fastballs and that was probably the game plan. But being as cold as it was and the wind blowing in, I wasn't going to nibble tonight. I was going to go right after them. Make them try to beat me."

He allowed three hits through the first eight innings, and talked with both pitching coach Steve McCatty and Williams before the ninth, assuring them he had enough left in the tank to stay in the game. Zimmermann fanned pinch-hitter Matt Duffy leading off the ninth and got Gregor Blanco to fly out to center before he walked Panik on a 3-1 pitch.

Zimmermann wasn't surprised when Williams emerged from the dugout and signaled for Storen.

"I knew I was on a short leash and Drew was ready. ... Once (Panik) got on, I was hoping I would be able to stay out there, but he went with Drew," Zimmerman said.

Posey immediately singled off a 95 mph fastball from Storen to advance Panik into scoring position, and Sandoval ripped the second pitch he saw from Storen into left. Though it took another nine innings before Brandon Belt homered for a 2-1 win, the damage was done and Zimmermann's gem was relegated to footnote status.

"Jordan pitched a great game, so to come in there to get that last out, it's disappointing to not close that out for him," Storen said.

Now the Nats have to sweep the final three games of the series if they want to advance to the National League Championship Series.

They'll have a cross-country flight to consider their dilemma.

"It's going to be a quiet flight," Zimmermann said. "I don't know if we have a practice tomorrow or not, but we're going to keep battling and be ready to go next game."

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