San Francisco Giants Close Down Washington Nationals in Game 4

It’d be ridiculous at this point to suggest the San Francisco Giants are lucky. Luck doesn’t win you two trophies in three years, and it doesn’t land you a spot in the National League Championship Series, which the Giants clinched with a 3-2 victory over the Washington Nationals Tuesday night at AT&T Park.

Not everyone pegged this team for another deep run. In fact, after the Giants squandered a hot start and squeaked into the second wild-card position, many dismissed them.

Funny thing though…there’s just something about this squad led by veteran skipper Bruce Bochy. The Giants seem to enjoy the feeling of their backs against a wall, to thrive when the pressure is greatest and to find the strangest, most unexpected ways to come up big.

Take Tuesday’s clincher: The Giants scored on a bases-loaded walk, a weak ground ball and a wild pitch. They would have plated a second run on a wild pitch, when an intentional ball four to Pablo Sandoval in the bottom of the seventh sailed over Washington catcher Wilson Ramos’ head.

The ball, though, caromed hard off the backstop, and Buster Posey was tagged out trying to score from third.

It didn’t matter. The Giants clung to their one-run lead with more stellar innings from their stingy bullpen and eked out another memorable, nail-gnawing win.

It began with starter Ryan Vogelsong, who in many ways embodies the unflinching resiliency of the Orange and Black. A Giants prospect once upon a time, Vogelsong was dealt to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2001.

A Tommy John surgery and a stint in Japan later, he returned to San Francisco as a minor league free agent in 2011 and fought his way into the rotation.

The following season, Vogelsong was an October hero, posting a 1.09 ERA in four playoff starts and getting himself a ring.

Since then, the 37-year-old right-hander has been unreliable at best. His 4.00 ERA in the 2014 regular season certainly didn’t inspire overwhelming confidence as he took the mound Tuesday, with the Giants up 2-1 in the best-of-five series.

It was a must-win game for the Nationals, but it felt like one for the Giants. San Francisco did not want to go back to D.C. with the series tied and face either Stephen Strasburg or Jordan Zimmermann in an elimination contest.

Vogelsong helped ensure that wouldn’t happen, tossing 5.2 gutsy innings while giving up one run on two hits. He didn’t earn the win, though, thanks to Bryce Harper.

In the top of the seventh, with the Giants leading 2-1, Harper launched a towering home run into the water beyond the right field wall off hard-throwing Giants rookie Hunter Strickland. The bomb fired up the Washington dugout; for a moment, it looked like the loaded, 96-win Nats had some fight left in them.

Then the Giants worked their magic, loading the bases in the bottom of the frame on a pair of singles and a walk and scoring on the aforementioned wild pitch.

And that was it. Setup man Sergio Romo and closer Santiago Casilla, who have combined for six scoreless frames this postseason, tossed mostly uneventful eighth and ninth innings, and the Giants stormed the field to celebrate another trip to the NLCS.

The team they’ll face, the St. Louis Cardinals, knows a thing or two about playoff mojo. The Cards made the Fall Classic in 2011 and 2013. Add the Giants’ appearances in 2010 and 2012, and we’re looking at a fifth straight season when either San Francisco or St. Louis will represent the National League on baseball’s biggest stage.

The Cardinals are tough. They showed that by dispatching the Los Angeles Dodgers in four games in the NLDS, including two wins against sure-fire Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw.

The Giants, though, have now won seven straight playoff series, eight if you count the wild-card playoff win against Pittsburgh that started this latest run.

They’ve already added to the legend in 2014, winning the longest game in MLB postseason history, an 18-inning marathon Oct. 4 at Nationals Park, on a towering home run by first baseman Brandon Belt.

Really, the Giants don’t need to say anything. They let their play do the talking.

They’re confident. They’re collected. They’re cohesive. And they get it done, one way or another.

Call them what you like. Just don’t call them lucky.

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San Francisco Giants Outlast Nationals In Marathon 18-Inning NLDS Game 2

The marathon game is finally over after Brandon Belt hit a solo homerun in the 18th inning to lead the San Francisco Giants over the Washington Nationals 2-1. This game should be about Belt’s heroics, but much will be made of the Nationals manager. Matt Williams cost the Nationals a chance to win game-two of the NLDS. After a ninth inning walk to Joe Panik to end Jordan Zimmerman’s streak of 20 straight batters retired, Williams chose to turn to Drew Storen out of the bullpen instead of staying with Zimmermann.

It was truly an inexplicable decision. Zimmermann was cruising, and he was only 100 pitches on the night. With Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval due up the order, wouldn’t you want your team’s best pitcher against the opposition’s heart of their lineup? I know I would. Nevertheless, after a two-out walk to Panik, it took only a handful of pitches for Posey to single and Sandoval to double him home. The Nationals could have very well lost it in the ninth inning as well, as Posey was called out in a controversial play at the plate.

The Nationals had plenty of chances to walk away with the win, but nine innings later, regardless, the Giants now head back to AT&T Park ahead in the NLDS 2-0. With Madison Bumgarner scheduled to pitch on Monday, it could be over quickly for the Nationals, just like it was in 2012, when they entered the postseason in similar fashion.

The decisions by Williams just highlighted the team’s total inexperience in the postseason as the Giants remained cool. After allowing the tying run in the ninth, Williams and Asdrubal Cabrera were both tossed after arguing balls and strikes in the 10th inning. It was a complete unraveling by the Nationals due to the frustration buildup from game-one and the majority of game-two, and it ultimately cost Washington the game, and potentially the series.

The win for the Giants, however, was just more evidence of how resilient this team really is. They won the World Series in 2010 and 2012 with similar resiliency. They weren’t the favorites in either of those series, but yet they moved their way through. Tonight was just another example of Bruce Bochy pulling all the right strings and believing in his players to come through in the end.

The same cannot be said for Williams, as the rookie manager made the mistake of pulling Zimmermann, and in turn, probably costing the Nationals any chance of winning this series.