Span hoping Nationals pick up option

Club can wait until after World Series to pick up $9 million option on center fielder

Span hoping Nationals pick up option

WASHINGTON -- Nationals center fielder Denard Span is still waiting for the Nationals to pick up his option for 2015, worth $9 million. He said his agent informed him that the team could wait until after the World Series to pick up the option.

"I still haven't heard anything yet. I don't know what's going to happen to be honest with you," Span said on the telephone. "I would be surprised if it wasn't picked up. You just never know."

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Span made it clear Friday afternoon that he wants to return to the Nationals. He is arguably coming off the best year his career. He led the team in batting average and set career highs in hits [184] and stolen bases [31]. Span said the Twins trading him to the Nationals in November of '12 rejuvenated his career. It allowed him to trust his abilities and feel loose on the field.

"From management all the way down to the coaching staff, the Nationals allowed me to be the player that I am," Span said. "They allowed me to have free reign, just have fun. I think I've learned a lot about myself these last two years. It's a good organization, good teammates, good clubhouse, so yeah it has been a joy these last two years, just back to having fun."

Span is considered to be one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball and hopes to win his first Gold Glove this year. In '13, he didn't make an error, but the Gold Glove went to Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez.

"Winning the Gold Glove would mean the world to me," Span said. "That would be gratifying, so satisfying. I worked hard, obviously. I've been playing center field for a while. I've been running down balls for a long time and showcasing my abilities. It would mean everything to finally get all the hard work acknowledged. It would be a dream come true."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashinNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Williams talks NLDS decisions, Nats' season in Q&A

Washington manager explains reasons behind pitching changes in playoffs

Williams talks NLDS decisions, Nats' season in Q&A

The Nationals had a great year under first-year manager Matt Williams, going 96-66. However, they fell to the Giants in the National League Division Series.

MLB.com caught up with Matt Williams recently to talk about the 2014 season, including the moves he made during the NLDS that had people scratching their heads.

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MLB.com: How are you doing since the postseason ended for the Nationals?

Matt Williams: I'm doing well. I think everybody that I've spoken to regarding the team is doing well, reflecting on the year and talking about how special it was. It was also disappointing at the same time. I've been watching a little bit of the playoffs, spending time with the family, which is good because we don't get a chance to do it that much during the season. It's been good.

MLB.com: What did you learn about the season -- good and bad?

Williams: I think we had some special things happen. I look at Denard [Span's] season, which was really special. It's not often that you get the franchise record in hits. I look at Anthony [Rendon's] season, and that was a major step forward for him. I love how our pitching staff went about it this year and the work Cat [pitching coach Steve McCatty] did with them. That was special. That doesn't happen all the time, either.

Overall, I look at how the team decide to go about doing it. The first week of Spring Training, we talked about what our strengths and weaknesses were and how we wanted to play the game. They fulfilled all of that. I look back on things and say we accomplished the goals that we set from spring with regards to how we went about it every day.

MLB.com: Anything you would take back?

Williams: I wouldn't think so. I don't look at anything during the season I would take back. You make decisions, sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. I don't take it back. We try to do the best job every single day to help us win. We did a lot of that this year. Those are the things I look at. We had a great season. But it was not fulfilling by any stretch, because we didn't get to where we wanted get to. It was a great season nonetheless.

MLB.com: The offense was consistent during the regular season. Were you shocked that it died during the postseason?

Williams: It happens. … It's magnified because it's a short series. I don't think it was the [four-day] layoff. We did everything we could to stay as sharp as we could. We played a game and we worked every day. We did everything that we normally do on an everyday basis. It's not like we took four days off and did nothing. We made sure we got into the ballpark and did everything we needed to do -- taking infield to pitcher's PFPs to bunt plays to actually playing a real game. We did everything we could do. It just didn't happen in the postseason. So to put a finger on it, to say why or how or any of that, you just can't. You just don't know. That's the way baseball goes sometimes.

MLB.com: During postseason, you took a beating from the media for some of the decisions you made in the National League Division Series. Do you have any regrets? Is there anything you would do over again?

Williams: No. I'm assuming you are talking about the pitching decisions.

MLB.com: Correct.

Williams: If you look at the Zim [Jordan Zimmermann] game in Game 2, there are many reasons that goes into the decision. Some are documented, some aren't. But it's not without thought. If it doesn't work, people are going to have questions about it. Can I take it back? No. Do I want to take it back? No. There was thought behind it. There was a reason for it, but it didn't work. I don't know how to think about it other than: Would I do it again? I would. If it goes the other way, there is nothing written about it. If Drew Storen gets Buster Posey out, nothing is written. But it didn't happen that way. That's why it's written. Taking a beating for it or having it written about, it's part of the job. I understand that. To think about it at this point, I'm not doing it. I'm looking forward to next year and seeing if we could make another run at this thing.

MLB.com: In Game 4 of the NLDS, a lot of people thought you should have brought in Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen instead of Matt Thornton and Aaron Barrett. Were you surprised people questioned your decision?

Williams: Again, it doesn't go the way you want it to go, then people question it. I feel for Aaron. He had a full count to [Hunter] Pence, and if he makes one pitch right there ... he can get you through that inning. It didn't happen. He ended up walking him. Of course the wild pitch happened, and that's the game. I feel for him, because he did a fantastic job for us. All year long, he was a guy we would bring in to face [Giancarlo] Stanton, [Justin] Upton, or the heavy right-handed hitters in a lineup. I'm not going to put guys in bad situations, but that is a spot he is used to doing this year.

Furthermore, if I bring in Clippard and Storen in those two innings, we are not into the ninth inning yet. It's written because it didn't work. You have to look no further than the stat sheet to find out why I do what I do. It didn't happen for us. That's all. If it happened and the offense was a little bit better, who knows? I can't worry about it now. All I can do is say: Let's move forward. We have to move forward now and start building this team for next year. Let's see if we can do this again.

MLB.com: What improvements would you like to see for next year?

Williams: I think we could play a little better defense. We started off rough. That kind of put us in a hole to start with -- defensively. We can start of a little bit better than that. I think given his postseason, I think Bryce [Harper] is at the point now where he is ready to take that next step. He had a great postseason. I think that will give him loads of confidence. Certainly, he is going to be healthy and ready to go on Opening Day. During the postseason, we really didn't have Zim [Ryan Zimmerman] fully. So, he'll help.

Improvements, I think we can improve in all aspects of the game. I think we can be more efficient defensively and not give away as many runs. There were times we were really good defensively and times when we weren't. We need to be more consistent in that regard.

Geez, we were the best team going from first to third, and we want to continue that. We didn't lead the league in stolen bases, but our percentage was phenomenal. We will continue to concentrate on that. The pitching is great. I think we can work hard to be as consistent as possible with guys in scoring position. That's important. There is always room for improvement. There are always things we could do better. We'll concentrate on all those things to get there.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He can also be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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MLB.com Columnist

Bernie Pleskoff

Pleskoff: Souza's talent on display after rocky road

Prospect capped breakout year in Minors with historic play in big leagues

Pleskoff: Souza's talent on display after rocky road

Many people would say right-handed-hitting outfielder Steven Souza Jr. was the top player in the Washington Nationals' farm system this season. He was named the MVP and Rookie of the Year playing for Triple-A Syracuse in the International League.

Following that fantastic Minor League season in which he hit a combined .345 at Class A Hagerstown (one game), Class A Advanced Potomac (three games and 10 plate appearances) and Triple-A Syracuse (96 games and 407 plate appearances), Souza had a Major League moment he will never forget. Neither will Nats pitcher Jordan Zimmermann, his big league teammates, manager Matt Williams or the fans. With two outs in the ninth inning in the final game of the season, Souza made a remarkable running and sliding catch to preserve Zimmermann's no-hitter.

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The Nationals selected Souza in the third-round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. He graduated from Cascade High School in Everett, Wash.

Souza had some rocky moments in the beginning of his career. In 2007, he hit .194 in 44 games for the Nationals' Gulf Coast Rookie League team. He was assigned to Hagerstown for the next three seasons.

In 2010, Souza, along with teammate J.R. Higley, was suspended for 50 games for violating baseball's drug policy.

In June of 2011, Souza got into an argument with his Hagerstown manager, Matt LeCroy. Farm director Doug Harris ordered Souza to pack his things and go home. It was the second consecutive year in which the young outfielder had made an immature mistake.

Souza realized the errors of his ways, asked his manager and his team for forgiveness and returned to Hagerstown to start the 2012 season. The next chapters contribute to a much brighter story.

Souza made tremendous strides, both on and off the field, and he began to show the multiple tools he possessed. Playing again for Hagerstown and getting a promotion to Class A Potomac, he concluded 2012 hitting a combined .297, and he followed that with an identical .297 in 2013.

This year, most of his time was spent at Triple-A Syracuse, where he hit .350. In his 96 games, Souza hit 18 homers while driving in 75 runs. He stole 26 bases and was only caught seven times. All of his offensive tools, his speed and his defense were on display.

In April, Souza was called up to the Nationals to help fill out the outfield roster. At the end of the season, he was again recalled. He finished the season hitting .130 in 26 plate appearances. And of course, he played some excellent defense.

Souza is ranked No. 5 on the Nationals' Top 20 Prospect list on MLB.com.

At 6-foot-4, 224-pounds, Souza has the size and strength of a power hitter. He has missed some time in his career with an oblique injury and recently, a shoulder injury, but his strength has returned, and he has the capability of punishing both left- and right-handed pitchers equally. He has the ability to use the entire field and can hit the ball out of any stadium.

Souza has some work to do cutting down on the aggressive, long swing that often finds him a bit tardy on high velocity pitches. He can be fooled by offspeed pitches as well. A shorter and more compact swing and recognizing pitches earlier will help improve all his offensive numbers. He does, however, have a good knowledge of the strike zone and is fairly effective in his pitch selection. Souza is not immune to accepting a base on balls.

Souza was converted to the outfield after having played third base. If needed, he could likely return to that position after polishing up on the necessary footwork and positioning. His arm is strong and accurate.

Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Consistent rotation highlights division-winning season

Strong lineup adds punch as Span, Rendon expertly set table

Consistent rotation highlights division-winning season

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals had a good enough team to go to the World Series, but they fell short by losing to the Giants in the National League Division Series.

The Nats fell off at the plate in the postseason, hitting .164 in the four games. Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon were the only hitters who performed admirably in the series. Did the four-day layoff after the regular season hurt them? One may never know.

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The regular season, on the other hand, was great for the Nationals. They won their second division title in three years, this time by 17 1/2 games over the Braves and Mets. It helped that they had a dominant rotation, led by Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann.

The Nats overcame major injuries to players such as Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Wilson Ramos, but they managed to stay consistent at the plate. It helped they had Denard Span and Rendon at the top of the order.

Now it's back to square one. It will be interesting to see what they do this offseason. They have to overhaul their bench and add some relievers to the staff. Adam LaRoche and Asdrubal Cabrera will be free agents after the World Series. It's doubtful LaRoche will come back because Zimmerman is expected to play first base. They also have to make decisions on Zimmermann, right-hander Doug Fister, shortstop Ian Desmond and reliever Tyler Clippard. All four could be free agents after the 2015 season.

Knowing general manager Mike Rizzo, he is already working to help the Nationals get better in 2015.

Record: 96-66, first place in the NL East

Defining moment: The Nationals won the division title on Sept. 16 against the Braves, their biggest rival. In his first year as a manager, Matt Williams saw major players such as Harper, Zimmerman and Ramos miss significant time because of injuries. To win the NL East, the Nationals finally showed they could finally beat the Braves. After losing seven of the first eight games, Washington won seven out of the next 10 games. Clutch hitting was the reason for the turnaround for Washington.

What went right: The Nationals led the Major Leagues in ERA. Their rotation of Strasburg, Zimmermann, Fister, Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark won a combined 69 games. ... The bullpen was respectable. It started with Rafael Soriano as the closer, but Drew Storen ended up taking over the role. ... Washington was consistent on offense, with Span and Rendon as the table setters. Rendon led the team in runs scored and played solid defense at second and third base. Span led the team in hits, batting average and stolen bases. ... Desmond and LaRoche were the run producers, each driving in more than 90 runs.

What went wrong: They had a lot injuries, though they were able to overcome them. But a lot didn't go their way during the postseason. In Game 2 of the NLDS, Zimmermann retired 20 of his last 21 hitters he faced, using mostly fastballs. After walking Joe Panik in the ninth inning with two outs, Williams decided to take Zimmermann, at 100 pitches, out of the game in favor of closer Storen. Williams said what he did was nothing new. He has a tendency of taking out the starting pitcher whenever there is a sign of trouble. A lot of Nationals followers thought Williams made a mistake.

Storen then allowed a single to Buster Posey to put runners on first and second. Pablo Sandoval was the next hitter, and he doubled down the left-field line, scoring Panik, but the Nationals were able to throw Posey out at the plate, a call reviewed and ruled to stand by replay officials. The Nats ended up losing in 18 innings and were down, 0-2, in the series.

Biggest surprise: Roark battled for the fifth spot in the rotation during Spring Training and won the job over Taylor Jordan and Chris Young. Roark won 15 games and had an outstanding 2.85 ERA. His best game was April 26 against the Padres, when he pitched a three-hit shutout at Nationals Park. Before the game, the 27-year-old Roark had a bullpen session that made him believe he could possibly have the game of his life.

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Hitter of the Year: Rendon was the Most Valuable Player of the team while hitting near the top of the lineup. Although he is one of the team's best players, what impressed bench coach Randy Knorr was Rendon's demeanor. No one can tell if Rendon was in a slump or on a hitting streak. To prove Knorr's point of view, take Rendon's at-bat against Braves closer Craig Kimbrel in the ninth inning on June 20 at Nationals Park. The Nationals were down by two runs. Rendon was already 0-for-4 on the day with a strikeout, and he was facing arguably the best closer in baseball. He was not intimidated by a guy who throws close to 100 miles an hour.

With Nate McLouth on first base after a leadoff walk, Rendon clocked a 2-1 pitch over the left-center field wall. At first, second-base umpire Mark Carlson ruled the ball was in play, and Rendon was credited with a double. Williams wanted the umpires to review the play, and he claimed the ball went over the wall for a home run. After a crew-chief review of 41 seconds, the play was overturned and Rendon was credited with a two-run homer.

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Pitcher of the Year: Right-hander Dan Haren was inconsistent in 2013, so the Nationals decided to go in a new direction and acquired Fister from the Tigers for infielder Steve Lombardozzi and pitchers Ian Krol and Robbie Ray. The trade turned out to be a steal for the Nationals. Even though his season didn't start until May because of a lat strain, Fister was the team leader in wins and starter's ERA.

Rookie of the Year: Right-hander Aaron Barrett was an integral part of the Nationals' bullpen. He able to pitch anywhere from the sixth to the eighth inning. Barrett hit a rough patch in July and was sent to the Minor Leagues in August. He spent a month with Triple-A Syracuse, where he worked on his throwing motion and received some rest. When Barrett returned to the big leagues in September, he had a new weapon in a changeup, especially against left-handers. After returning to the Majors, Barrett didn't allow an earned run in his final seven innings of the regular season.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Nationals' bench set for overhaul in 2015

Williams 'proud' of team's accomplishments, but tweaks have to be made

Nationals' bench set for overhaul in 2015

WASHINGTON -- After watching his players lose to the Giants in the National League Division Series, Nationals manager Matt Williams told his players how much he appreciated their effort during the season.

"We established a way to go about this game in Spring Training, and we accomplished that goal," Williams said. "We played the way we wanted to play and did a lot of things right. So, you know, it's tender and it's bitter and all of those things, but I'm proud of them. I'm proud of the way they went about it."

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Although the Nats finished with the best record in the NL, they have to make some changes to their roster. For example, they have to overhaul their bench. Pinch-hitters hit .144 in 2014. They may need to tweak the bullpen, which didn't do well in the postseason.

One thing is certain, general manager Mike Rizzo will be busy trying to make the Nationals championship contenders for 2015.

Arbitration-eligible: LHP Jerry Blevins, RHP Tyler Clippard, LHP Ross Detwiler, 2B Danny Espinosa, INF/OF Kevin Frandsen, RHP Doug Fister, RHP Craig Stammen, RHP Stephen Strasburg, RHP Drew Storen, C Wilson Ramos, RHP Ross Ohlendorf

Free agents: 2B Asdrubal Cabrera, 1B Adam LaRoche, OF Scott Hairston, OF Nate Schierholtz, RHP Rafael Soriano

Rotation: It's set with Strasburg, Fister, Jordan Zimmermann, Tanner Roark and Gio Gonzalez. The biggest question is, can the Nationals sign Zimmermann and Fister long-term? They are free agents after the 2015 season. Before Opening Day, according to two sources, the Nationals tried to sign Zimmermann to a five-year deal at $17 million per season, but both sides settled for a two-year, $24 million deal. One could argue that Zimmermann was their best pitcher this past season, and it may take a lot more to sign him. Fister led the team in wins despite missing more than a month with a lat strain. It will be interesting to see what happens before Opening Day.

Bullpen: Soriano is not expected back. After not doing so well in the postseason, it will be interesting to see if Storen will be the closer next year. Some people in the Nationals organization see Blake Treinen as a future closer, although he has done well as a starter. Clippard will continue to be the setup guy, but he is also a free agent after 2015. Blevins, Stammen, Aaron Barrett, Matt Thornton and Detwiler are expected to be back in the bullpen next year.

Catcher: Ramos is expected to remain the No. 1 catcher, but he has to show the Nationals that he can remain healthy for a full season. The last time he avoided the DL was 2011. This past season, Ramos broke a hamate bone and had hamstring problems. Jose Lobaton will be the backup catcher. He had a good rapport with Fister and Strasburg. Lobaton wasn't bad with the bat during the final two months of the season, hitting .305 in that span.

First base: LaRoche is not expected back. Right now, the plan is for Ryan Zimmerman to play the position. His days as a third baseman are over. Zimmerman has to stay healthy, something he didn't do in 2014. Besides breaking his thumb, he missed most of the second half because of a hamstring injury. Zimmerman was eligible for the NL Division Series, but he was limited as a pinch-hitter because of the hamstring problems. Frandsen most likely will be the backup first baseman.

Second base: It's hard to say who will play the position in 2015. Cabrera is a free agent. After Game 4 of the NLDS, Cabrera said he was willing to stay with the Nationals as their second baseman. This comes over month after he said he wanted to play shortstop in the future. Espinosa is an excellent defender, but he seemed to have lost his way as a hitter, especially from the left side of the plate. The Nationals could put Anthony Rendon back at second base while they pursue a third baseman.

Shortstop: Ian Desmond is the guy, but can they sign him to a long-term deal? According to published reports, Desmond turned down a six-year, $90 million deal and settled for a two-year, $17.2 million contract. He says he wants to be a member of the Nationals for a long time. We'll see what happens during the offseason.

Third base: Rendon was more than just the team's best hitter this past season, he played Gold Glove Award-caliber defense at third and second base. He could see himself back at second base if the Nationals acquire a third baseman this offseason.

Outfield: The first order of business is to pick up Denard Span's $9 million option. Span had his best season as a leadoff hitter and set career highs in hits and stolen bases. Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth are set in the corners. If the postseason means anything, Harper could have his best season at the plate in 2015. Werth is always consistent on offense and is expected to hit third in the order. Provided that he is healthy, Nate McLouth should be the fourth outfielder. He missed the most of the second half because of a shoulder injury.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Zimmerman understands why NLDS time was limited

Slugger, dealing with hamstring injury, proud of Nationals' season

Zimmerman understands why NLDS time was limited

WASHINGTON -- Nationals slugger Ryan Zimmerman didn't see much action in the National League Division Series against the Giants. He had four at-bats, all coming as a pinch-hitter.

It was expected that Zimmerman would be in the lineup in Game 3 against the Giants' Madison Bumgarner, but he started the game on the bench because of his history against the left-hander; he'd gone 3-for-17 (.176) with a home run and three RBIs.

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However, Zimmerman acknowledged that he was not healthy enough to start and understood why he didn't see more action. He missed most of the second half of the season because of a Grade 3 strain to his right hamstring.

"I got some at-bats, but not too many at-bats with runners in scoring position. It's just kind of how the series went. It is what it is," Zimmerman said. "I was hurt enough not to play. If it was enough, I would have played. They would have found a place to put me, but this team was one of the best teams during the month of September, so it hard to mess with something like that. We didn't get enough hits to win. Unfortunately, that's what got us."

Zimmerman was disappointed that the Nationals were eliminated by the Giants, but feels the Nationals can hold their heads high.

"We did a lot of good things this year. We did a lot of things to be proud of," Zimmerman said. "We did a lot of things to learn from and build on. Hopefully, we'll get to be where we want to be next year.

"Winning the division two out of three years is pretty good. I think people shouldn't lose sight of that. It's not easy to win the postseason. Obviously, our goal is to win the World Series, but I think we have a lot to be proud of -- the amount of games we won in the last three years. Where we came from, I think the future is still very bright for this team."

Zimmerman expects the team to make some changes. He didn't say which changes, but he is likely to play first base next year, replacing Adam LaRoche.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He can also be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Harper's heroics not enough as Nats' title hopes end

Outfielder drives in both Washington runs in Game 4 loss to Giants

Harper's heroics not enough as Nats' title hopes end

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Nationals' World Series hopes came to an end Tuesday night as they lost to the Giants, 3-2, in Game 4 of the National League Division Series, eliminating the club from postseason play.

"This is tough," center fielder Denard Span said. "We didn't play well all series. That's the bottom line. The Giants made the least amount of mistakes. We made too many mistakes. The little things added up. They were a better team for these four games."

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Washington's bullpen was reliable most of the season, but in the seventh inning, it faltered, allowing the game-deciding run. With the score tied at 2 and one out, Matt Thornton allowed consecutive singles to Joe Panik and Buster Posey. Manager Matt Williams then decided to bring in Aaron Barrett, who walked Hunter Pence to load the bases. With Pablo Sandoval at the plate, Barrett threw a wild pitch, scoring Panik to give the Giants the lead.

"I thought I made some pretty good pitches," Barrett said. "I battled back to 3-2 [in the count]. I guess I tried to do a little too much there and ended up walking [Pence]. I tried to slow myself down as much as possible. It was great atmosphere. I just tried to do a little too much. I didn't want to walk him there, obviously. I tried to challenge him there."

San Francisco nearly scored another run soon thereafter. As he was trying to walk Sandoval intentionally, Barrett threw a wild pitch. Posey tried to score on the play, but was thrown out by Wilson Ramos on a close play at the plate that was confirmed by a crew chief review.

"I got lucky, obviously, with the wild pitch," Barrett said. "The bottom line is I didn't make pitches when I had to, and it ended up costing us the game."

Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez started the game and had one bad inning, and it proved costly. Gonzalez wasn't hit hard, but he had serious problems fielding his position.

In the second inning, after Brandon Crawford singled to left field, Juan Perez hit what appeared to be a routine grounder to Gonzalez, who booted the ball for an error, and both runners were safe.

"I thought that ball was hit harder than it was," Gonzalez said. "It's almost like a changeup coming at you. I saw it all the way to my glove. I just picked it up, just right at the end."

Giants starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong was the next hitter, and he bunted a slow roller down the third-base line that went for an infield single. Gonzalez thought third baseman Anthony Rendon called for the ball, but no one picked it up, and Vogelsong was safe at first.

"That's my fault 100 percent," Gonzalez said. "I should have done a better job getting those outs. Obviously, it's a different ballgame [if I make the plays]."

Gregor Blanco followed and drew a walk to force Crawford home. Panik was the next hitter, and he grounded out to Adam LaRoche, but Perez scored on the play.

Gonzalez pitched four innings, allowed two unearned runs on four hits and struck out one batter.

Vogelsong faced the Nats twice during the regular season and had a tough time against them, allowing nine runs in 11 1/3 innings. But Tuesday was a different story. He was dealing. In fact, he didn't allow a hit in the first four innings.

The first hit came in the fifth inning, when Ian Desmond led off with a single to left. He would later score on a double by Bryce Harper. But the Nationals couldn't string any more hits together that inning, and Harper was left stranded. Ramos popped up to Crawford at short, while Asdrubal Cabrera grounded out to Crawford. After pinch-hitter Nate Schierholtz drew a walk, Span grounded out weakly to first baseman Brandon Belt.

Vogelsong ended up pitching 5 2/3 innings, allowing a run on two hits and striking out four hitters. Vogelsong left the game in the sixth inning after right fielder Pence made a great leaping catch at the wall to rob Jayson Werth of at least a double.

"I don't know when the last time Vogelsong pitched, but that was huge of him to deliver like that," Desmond said. "That was a lot better stuff than we saw from him the last time we faced him. ... That's big-time stuff."

The Nats would tie the score in seventh inning off right-hander Hunter Strickland. With one out, Harper came to the plate and hit a mammoth home run that landed in McCovey Cove. It was the 104th home run that went in the water behind the right-field wall at AT&T Park, but just the third in postseason play.

"He was on some fastballs this series," Posey said.

A ninth-inning rally came up short after Harper drew a two-out walk but Ramos then grounded out to second to end the comeback attempt, and the Nationals' season. For the second time in three years, the Nats had the best record in the NL but then came up short in the NLDS. 

"It was an excellent regular season, as far as the team goes," LaRoche said. "When you get into the postseason and don't win a World Series, I think it is considered a failure. Not from the fans' perspective, but from the players' perspective. [Winning the World Series] was the objective. It was a really quality regular season, because we were here."

After the game, Williams had a team meeting with the players and told them how much he appreciated that effort during the season.

"I told them that I'm proud of their effort," Williams said. "We established a way to go about [playing the] game in Spring Training, and we accomplished that goal. We played the way we wanted to play and did a lot of things right. So, you know, it's tender and it's bitter and all of those things, but I'm proud of them. I'm proud of the way they went about it."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Nats have foundation to be contenders in 2015

Nats have foundation to be contenders in 2015

SAN FRANCISCO -- Although they were eliminated from the National League Division Series by the Giants with Tuesday's 3-2 loss in Game 4, the Nationals are expected to be contenders for several years. The rotation is set for next season, with Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann leading the way, while Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper and Ian Desmond will be mainstays on offense. 

"'We have a lot of talent, good ballplayers that are under contract and coming back," Desmond said. "The window isn't closed. It's important to look past this, go to Spring Training and be ready to go."

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  Date Time Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 3   SF 3, WAS 2 video
Gm 2 Oct. 4   SF 2, WAS 1 (18 inn.) video
Gm 3 Oct. 6   WAS 4, SF 1 video
Gm 4 Oct. 7   SF 3, WAS 2 video

But the team still has a lot of decisions to make. Players such as first baseman Adam LaRoche, second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera, reliever Rafael Soriano and leadoff hitter and center fielder Denard Span could be free agents after the World Series.

LaRoche had another productive season for the Nats. He and the team have a mutual option for $15 million for 2015. But there are questions about LaRoche returning, because there is talk that Ryan Zimmerman could play first base starting next season.

Asked if he played his last game as a member of the Nationals on Tuesday, LaRoche said, "I hope not. Time will tell on that, and we'll see what direction they want to go. If it is, it was a blast. It's a time I will never forget. I don't regret any of it."

Cabrera said recently that he wanted to play shortstop. But he spoke a different tune after the loss to the Giants. Cabrera said he wants to finally get to the World Series and doesn't care what position he plays.

"A team like this, if they let me play second, I would love to stay here," Cabrera said. "I just want to win. I want the team to win. I have eight seasons [in the big leagues] already. Now I want to be in a World Series one day."

Span has an team option for $9 million for 2015, and that is expected to be picked up. He arguably had the best season of his career, leading the team in hits and batting average.

If Soriano had finished a combined 120 games over the last two years, he would have a contract for 2015. But he missed the mark (106) and most likely will not be with the team next season. Drew Storen most likely will hold onto the closer job he reclaimed toward the end of this past season.

One area the Nats will want to improve is their bench. Pinch-hitters had a .144 batting average with five home runs and 18 RBIs for Washington in 2014.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Harper part of homer history with game-tying shot

Equals Mantle, Miggy, Andruw for most playoff blasts before age 22

Harper part of homer history with game-tying shot

SAN FRANCISCO -- Nationals left fielder Bryce Harper hit a monster home run off Hunter Strickland in Game 1 of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park on Saturday. Afterward, the Giants reliever said he wouldn't be afraid to challenge Harper again.

A similar situation occurred in the seventh inning of Washington's 3-2 loss in Game 4 at AT&T Park on Tuesday night. The Nats trailed by a run. Strickland was pitching. Harper was up with one out and nobody on.

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And the result looked pretty familiar, too. Harper crushed a fastball that landed in McCovey Cove to tie the score. The game-tying blast was just the third "splash hit" at AT&T Park in postseason history, and the second by an opposing player.

Power surge
Most postseason extra-base hits before age 22
Player Tm 2B 3B HR XBH
Bryce Harper Was. 2 1 4 7
Mickey Mantle NYY 1 1 4 6
Miguel Cabrera Fla. 2 0 4 6
Andruw Jones Atl. 1 0 4 5
Xander Bogaerts Bos. 3 1 0 4
Edgar Renteria Fla. 3 0 0 3
Wayne Garrett NYM 2 0 1 3
Joe DiMaggio NYY 3 0 0 3
Jimmie Foxx Phi. 1 0 2 3

The Giants ended up coming back to win, eliminating the Nationals and advancing to face the Cardinals in the NL Championship Series. But that blast landed Harper in some pretty impressive postseason company.

It made him just the fourth player with four playoff homers before the age of 22. The others: Mickey Mantle, Miguel Cabrera and Andruw Jones.

It also gave Harper seven extra-base hits, more than any 21-or-younger player in history. He passed Mantle and Cabrera, who had six each. Harper delivered an RBI double in the fifth to account for Washington's first run.

Harper also homered off Jean Machi for an insurance run during Game 3 in San Francisco on Monday. Harper's other postseason homer came against the Cardinals in Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS.

As Harper was approaching the plate, he appeared to be shouting angrily at Strickland, but Harper downplayed it while meeting with the media.

  Date Time Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 3   SF 3, WAS 2 video
Gm 2 Oct. 4   SF 2, WAS 1 (18 inn.) video
Gm 3 Oct. 6   WAS 4, SF 1 video
Gm 4 Oct. 7   SF 3, WAS 2 video

"A 2-1 ballgame, you hit a homer to tie it up in the seventh, that's something you dream about," said Harper. "So to be able to do that, my emotion is that I'm going crazy. I don't even know what I'm doing. I guess you'd say I was going so crazy. I was so happy about it. They got the upper hand. They beat us, so that homer was really nothing."

Harper wasn't sure Strickland would follow through on his promise to challenge him again.

"He actually throws fuego, so you're just up there trying to put the bat on the ball," said Harper. "I respect him for giving me another 3-1 heater. That takes a lot of [guts] to be able to do that. So I tip my cap to him, I tip my cap to everybody in that dugout and in that clubhouse over there. And hopefully we'll get back to them next year."

Harper added that he wasn't certain at first that the ball would stay fair.

Harper, who had May thumb surgery that limited him to 100 games, may not have had the kind of regular season many expect as a result. But he came up big in the postseason, batting .294 with a 1.250 OPS.

"I love being in the postseason," said Harper. "I love these situations. I think a lot of guys do. I love going in and playing in these hostile environments and playing crazy games."

The Nats have won the NL East two of the past three seasons, but they have been beaten in the NLDS both times.

"I think we've done a great job the past three years," said Harper. "I think we've done great as an organization. I think we've done great as a team. I think we've seen a lot of young talent that's been produced for us, and the only way we can go is up.

"Losing to the Giants definitely hurts. We don't want to lose, but losing to one of the best teams in all of baseball, one of the best teams in the postseason. I've got so much respect for the way the fans are and the organization that the Giants are and [manager] Bruce Bochy and that whole team. They're a class act, a great organization. It stinks to lose against them, but it's all good."

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Gio's miscues lead to two-run second for Giants

Gio's miscues lead to two-run second for Giants

SAN FRANCISCO -- One day after a throwing error by pitcher Madison Bumgarner derailed the Giants in Game 3 of the National League Division Series, two defensive miscues by Gio Gonzalez and the Nationals set up a two-run second inning for the Giants to open the scoring in Game 4 on Tuesday at AT&T Park.

After a 3-2 defeat ended Washington's season, those mistakes loomed large.

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  Date Time Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 3   SF 3, WAS 2 video
Gm 2 Oct. 4   SF 2, WAS 1 (18 inn.) video
Gm 3 Oct. 6   WAS 4, SF 1 video
Gm 4 Oct. 7   SF 3, WAS 2 video
With one out and a runner on first, Juan Perez hit a soft comebacker with double-play potential. But the ball ricocheted off Gonzalez's glove for an error.

"It happens," said Nats manager Matt Williams. "The ball is hit back at him. The mound is chewed up. There's a huge hole in front of him. It's in between hops, and he didn't catch it. So it's not shocking. It's disappointing that he wasn't able to make that play. But we have to move on within the game after that."

San Francisco starter Ryan Vogelsong, the following batter, laid down a bunt between Gonzalez and third baseman Anthony Rendon. The pair crossed signals and could merely watch as all three runners advanced safely.

Gonzalez proceeded to walk Gregor Blanco on four pitches, bringing in the first run of the game, and Joe Panik added an RBI groundout to first baseman Adam LaRoche.

It could have been much worse for Gonzalez, who gathered himself to retire Buster Posey on a groundout to Rendon with two men in scoring position. But after the Nationals plated runs in the fifth and seventh to tie the game, the Giants went ahead for good on Aaron Barrett's seventh-inning wild pitch.

"The bottom line to it was we were tied after six [innings]," Williams said. "So it's irrelevant at that point."

Aaron Leibowitz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Nats disappointed but already looking ahead to next year

Nats disappointed but already looking ahead to next year

SAN FRANCISCO -- Nationals owner Mark Lerner circled through the silent visitors' clubhouse at AT&T Park on Tuesday night, stopping each player he came across to say a few quiet words. General manager Mike Rizzo did the same.

A few moments earlier, the Giants had eliminated the team with the National League's best record from their NL Division Series with a 3-2 decision in Game 4. This was not how the Nats had envisioned their season ending. Even after shortstop Ian Desmond was called out on a checked-swing third strike leading off the top of the ninth, a call he strongly disagreed with, he made sure not to say anything to home-plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt that would get him ejected.

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"I took my helmet off, and the first thing that came to my mind was, 'Don't get thrown out of this game, because we're going to tie it up and they're going to need me,'" said Desmond. "It's a testament to this team that that popped into my head at that moment. You can't fake that. We believed in each other all year long."

  Date Time Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 3   SF 3, WAS 2 video
Gm 2 Oct. 4   SF 2, WAS 1 (18 inn.) video
Gm 3 Oct. 6   WAS 4, SF 1 video
Gm 4 Oct. 7   SF 3, WAS 2 video

Except the Nationals didn't tie the score. Two outs later, the Giants were dancing across the field, celebrating a return trip to the NL Championship Series. The Nats could do nothing but tip their caps and wonder what might have been.

Left fielder Bryce Harper figuratively tipped his cap to the four Giants starters -- Jake Peavy, Tim Hudson, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong -- who combined for a 1.04 ERA.

"There's nothing you can say," said Harper. "Huddy came in and dealt. Peavy came in and dealt. Vogelsong came in and dealt. Madison dealt. Those guys have been here. They've done things in their careers a lot of people haven't done. They've pitched in the postseason. They know how to go about their business out there."

The Nationals batted .164 as a team, scoring nine runs (eight earned) in 45 innings. Each of their three losses was by one run.

"The difference was just small things," said closer Drew Storen. "High-pressure situations and two really good teams, it doesn't take a lot. They're a good ballclub, too. It's a matter of inches, and what makes postseason baseball so exciting is that there's not a lot of margin for error. It wasn't a lack of effort or anything like that. Things just didn't work out."

Added reliever Jerry Blevins: "That's baseball. The Giants are a really good team. They know how to win."

"They outplayed us," said first baseman Adam LaRoche.

At the same time, the Nationals didn't hide their disappointment. They expected more from themselves, but the Nats still think their organization has a bright future.

"We put ourselves in a position to be here, and there are a lot of teams that can't say that," LaRoche said. "It hurts to get knocked out again. We just didn't hit, and it's hard to win games that way. They've got pitchers. They didn't get here by not pitching, but it's guys we can get to and we didn't. Timing was off, a couple bad breaks, and I felt like we hit some balls hard and didn't get anything out of them."

"This is tough. This is tough. This is tough," added center fielder Denard Span. "All of us worked hard this season. To come up short, the way we played, it's tough. We didn't play good all series, bottom line. They made the least amount of mistakes. We made too many mistakes. Too many little things added up and they were a better team for these four games."

Ryan Zimmerman is the original face of the Nationals' franchise, but he was limited to pinch-hitting after missing much of the regular season with thumb and hamstring injuries.

"We were one of the best teams in September," said Zimmerman. "We just didn't get enough hits to win. I think winning the division two out of three years is pretty good. I don't think people should lose sight of that.

"It's not easy to win in the postseason. Obviously our goal, like everyone, is to win the World Series, but I think we've got a lot to be proud of and I think the future is still very bright for this team."

Span is already looking ahead.

"The first step is to get there, and we've done that two of the last three years," Span said. "We've got a lot of talent, a lot of good ballplayers in here, a lot of good ballplayers who are under contract and coming back. The window isn't closed, but it is closing. It's important for us to move past this and go to Spring Training ready to go."

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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With bullpen set up, seventh inning gets away from Nats

With bullpen set up, seventh inning gets away from Nats

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Nationals needed a win Tuesday night to have the opportunity to play at least one more game this year. Bryce Harper set the stage with a game-tying home run in the top of the seventh.

That gave manager Matt Williams some options in Game 4 of the National League Division Series, including bringing star right-hander Stephen Strasburg out of the bullpen. Had Williams made that move, he would have still had Jordan Zimmermann ready to go on full rest in a decisive Game 5 on Thursday. But that possibility was rendered moot due to the Nats' season-ending 3-2 loss to the Giants.

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Instead, lefty-hander Matt Thornton started the seventh inning. Before it ended, right-handers Aaron Barrett and Rafael Soriano had also pitched and the Giants had scored the run that sent them to the NL Championship Series to play the Cardinals.

  Date Time Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 3   SF 3, WAS 2 video
Gm 2 Oct. 4   SF 2, WAS 1 (18 inn.) video
Gm 3 Oct. 6   WAS 4, SF 1 video
Gm 4 Oct. 7   SF 3, WAS 2 video

"We had it set up pretty good," Williams reflected.

Thornton gave up a pair of one-out singles. Barrett entered, walked Hunter Pence to load the bases and then bounced a wild pitch past catcher Wilson Ramos that allowed what turned out to be the winning run to cross the plate.

Williams, naturally, was asked to explain his thought process in going with Thornton and then not bringing in, say, Tyler Clippard or even closer Drew Storen when San Francisco began to construct a rally.

"Because those are our seventh-inning guys," said Williams. "That's how we set this up. We had two lefties [Gregor Blanco and Joe Panik] at the top of the inning, and if we got to the righties [Buster Posey and Pence], we were going to go with Barrett. That's what he's done for us all year long.

"They got a couple of base hits and the wild pitch did us in. You know, that's the way the game goes sometimes, and I'm proud of the way they have gone about it this year, and they should be, too. We're certainly not going to use our closer in the seventh inning. So that's why we went with it."

Nor did Williams think about bringing Soriano, who had been the Nationals' closer much of the season before being supplanted by Storen, into the seventh earlier.

"I don't think so. Aaron's been doing that job for us all year long," said Williams. "He's a strikeout guy. He's got the ability to strike that guy out. Unfortunately, it was a wild pitch. So, you know, that happens. But he's been our guy that we've gone to in the middle of orders with every team that we've played all year long to get a big strikeout or get a big out."

Williams pulled starter Gio Gonzalez after four innings, in part because the pitcher's spot in the order came up in the top of the fifth with two outs and a runner on second with Washington down by a run. That brought rookie starter Tanner Roark, the odd man out when the NLDS rotation was put together, in to pitch the fifth. The Giants loaded the bases with one out, but they didn't score as left-hander Jerry Blevins came in to strike out Brandon Belt to end the inning.

"In a normal game and not an elimination game, [Gonzalez] may still be in that game," Williams said. "But we know that if we lose it, then we go home."

Williams said he didn't think about using Strasburg instead of Roark in that situation, and he didn't want to discuss the conditions under which Strasburg might have been used on short rest.

"It's irrelevant. Did I have a scenario in mind when we were going to Stephen? No, it's irrelevant. Doesn't matter. He didn't pitch," Williams said. "That's Tanner. Stephen, as I said pregame, it was emergency only for Stephen. We get into late innings, then he's our guy. He's only on three days' rest. Tanner was rested and ready."

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Nationals-Giants Game 4: Did you know?

Nationals-Giants Game 4: Did you know?

It wasn't easy, but the Giants got the job done on Tuesday night, as they have so often in recent years. Their hard-fought 3-2 victory over the Nationals in Game 4 of the National League Division Series at AT&T Park gave them a 3-1 series win and sent them on to face the Cardinals in the NL Championship Series. San Francisco now sits four victories away from its third trip to the World Series in five years.

Here's what you should know from Game 4:

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• The Giants' win was their 38th in the postseason since 2000, putting them fourth, behind the Cardinals, Yankees and Red Sox.

  Date Time Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 3   SF 3, WAS 2 video
Gm 2 Oct. 4   SF 2, WAS 1 (18 inn.) video
Gm 3 Oct. 6   WAS 4, SF 1 video
Gm 4 Oct. 7   SF 3, WAS 2 video

• All three of San Francisco's victories in the series came by one run, with the teams both scoring nine total runs. The only other team to plate as few as nine runs while winning a Division Series was the 1998 Yankees during a three-game sweep of the Rangers.

Ryan is VogelStrong
Lowest postseason ERA (minimum 30 innings)
Player IP ERA
Mariano Rivera 141 0.70
Harry Brecheen 32 2/3 0.83
Babe Ruth 31 0.87
Sherry Smith 30 1/3 0.89
Sandy Koufax 57 0.95
Christy Mathewson 101 2/3 0.97
Monte Pearson 35 2/3 1.01
Blue Moon Odom 39 2/3 1.13
Ryan Vogelsong 30 1/3 1.19
Eddie Plank 54 2/3 1.32
Bill Hallahan 39 2/3 1.36

• The Giants are 26-10 in the postseason since 2010, winning all seven of their series, plus this year's NL Wild Card Game.

• With the Giants and Cardinals set to meet in the NLCS, one of them will be representing the NL in the World Series for the fifth straight year. The last time two NL clubs managed that was from 1991-96 (excluding the '94 strike year), when the Braves made four World Series and the Phillies appeared in one.

• By holding the Nats to one run over 5 2/3 innings, Ryan Vogelsong became the first pitcher in Major League history to allow no more than one run in each of his first five career postseason starts.

Deferring only to El Duque
Lowest ERA through first five postseason starts
Player IP ERA
Orlando Hernandez 37 0.97
Ryan Vogelsong 30 1/3 1.19
Bill Hallahan 37 1/3 1.21
George Earnshaw 38 2/3 1.40
John Smoltz 37 2/3 1.43

• Vogelsong, whose previous four playoff outings all came in 2012, has given up a total of four runs in 30 1/3 postseason innings. That gives him a 1.19 ERA, good for ninth all time among pitchers with at least 30 innings. It's also second best for a pitcher's first five postseason starts, behind Orlando Hernandez's 0.97 ERA.

• Vogelsong, who laid down a key bunt single while trying to sacrifice in the second inning, had no previous bunt hits in 313 career plate appearances, including the postseason. He hit .097 in 144 at-bats from 2012-14.

Bryce Harper's game-tying solo blast into McCovey Cove in the seventh inning was just the third "splash hit" at AT&T Park in postseason history, and the second by an opposing player.

• That homer made Harper the second player, after Miguel Cabrera in 2003, to go deep at least three times in a single playoff series at age 21 or younger. It also was Harper's fourth career postseason long ball, tying him with Cabrera, Andruw Jones and Mickey Mantle for the most by a player before turning 22.

Power source
Most postseason extra-base hits before age 22
Player Tm 2B 3B HR XBH
Bryce Harper Was. 2 1 4 7
Mickey Mantle NYY 1 1 4 6
Miguel Cabrera Fla. 2 0 4 6
Andruw Jones Atl. 1 0 4 5
Xander Bogaerts Bos. 3 1 0 4
Edgar Renteria Fla. 3 0 0 3
Wayne Garrett NYM 2 0 1 3
Joe DiMaggio NYY 3 0 0 3
Jimmie Foxx Phi. 1 0 2 3

• Harper also doubled earlier in the game, giving him seven extra-base hits out of eight total hits in his postseason career. No other player in history has collected seven postseason extra-base hits before turning 22.

• San Francisco's win sends pitcher Tim Hudson to the LCS round for the first time in his career. The 39-year-old, who started Game 2, had played for eight playoff teams that were all unable to advance that far.

• With the exception of rookie Hunter Strickland, who served up three homers, the Giants' bullpen combined to allow one run in 16 1/3 innings in the series.

• By going four innings, Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez has lasted five or fewer frames in each of his three career playoff outings, with a total of 14.

• Nats starters combined to give up two earned runs in the series. Stephen Strasburg allowed one in Game 1, and Jordan Zimmermann one in Game 2, though it scored after he exited one out shy of a shutout. Overall, Washington surrendered just six earned runs -- plus three unearned -- in the four games.

• By retiring all four batters he faced, Nationals reliever Jerry Blevins closed out his season by getting 26 of the last 28 men he faced, with 13 strikeouts. He threw 3 1/3 perfect innings in the series.

• San Francisco's pitchers held hitters other than Harper and Anthony Rendon to a combined 14-for-123 (.114) with two doubles, one home run, two RBIs, nine walks and 34 strikeouts in the series.

• This will be the fourth Giants-Cardinals NLCS, after 2012, '02 and 1987. That ties it with Royals-Yankees for the third-most common LCS matchup, behind Dodgers-Phillies and Pirates-Reds, which both have occurred five times.

Andrew Simon is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Wild pitch helps Giants punch NLCS ticket

Wild pitch helps Giants punch NLCS ticket

SAN FRANCISCO -- The crescendo built slowly, with one out in the seventh. A hit from Joe Panik. A hit from Buster Posey. A pitching change.

The Nationals and Giants were tied in Game 4 of the National League Division Series, but the home team was threatening. Heavy-metal music blared from AT&T Park's loudspeakers. Tens of thousands of Bay Area fans, who have been through this sort of thing before, screamed in anything but unison. And the new Nats pitcher, rookie Aaron Barrett, admitted to "trying to do a little too much" in what would become a 3-2 Giants win.

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Barrett walked Hunter Pence, missing low to load the bases. Then he spiked a fastball in the dirt, allowing the go-ahead run to score. Panik raced home easily from third base, sprinting through the hole that Barrett and the Nationals opened for him.

  Date Time Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 3   SF 3, WAS 2 video
Gm 2 Oct. 4   SF 2, WAS 1 (18 inn.) video
Gm 3 Oct. 6   WAS 4, SF 1 video
Gm 4 Oct. 7   SF 3, WAS 2 video

"That's our way sometimes," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "We scratch and claw for runs. And we got a break."

The Giants, who made their own breaks throughout so much of their four-game NLDS victory, were more than happy on this occasion to accept one from the Nationals. It was only moments earlier that Bryce Harper had turned a one-run lead into a tie ballgame with a mammoth blast into McCovey Cove, thrusting San Francisco's entire future in doubt. On paper, the Nats were the more talented team, owners of the NL's best record. Though the Giants had jumped out to an early series lead, they breathed life into Washington with their own mistakes in Game 3. Doing so again in Game 4 could have been crippling.

But by the time Barrett entered, the night's momentum was already swinging back in San Francisco's direction. The crescendo by the bay was building and Barrett -- manager Matt Williams' choice over Stephen Strasburg, Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen or any other unused reliever in his bullpen -- fed the crowd by falling behind Pence, 3-0.

"Obviously, it was a little bit more magnified than the other games," Barrett said. "But since my debut, I came in that same type of situation -- tie ballgame -- and I think those outings that I've been put in those spots definitely prepared me for tonight. I just didn't make my pitches."

If Panik was not on high alert already, his adrenaline began rushing when he reached third base. He saw Barrett struggle to hit his spots against Pence and prepared for what happened: a ball in the dirt.

"In that type of situation, you're ready to pounce on anything," Panik said. "He walked Hunter in front of Pablo Sandoval, so he was a little erratic. In that situation, you're ready for anything, because if he squibs it, or a swinging bunt -- anything -- you have to be ready to come home. I got a good jump on it and made it home safely."

And then Panik rejoiced.

"The adrenaline kind of took over," Panik said. "Once you cross home plate and you realize this is the go-ahead run in a game like this, you're pretty excited. You're pretty pumped up."

For a Giants team that found inventive ways to win throughout this series -- dinking and dunking Strasburg for a couple of runs in Game 1, relying on Yusmeiro Petit for six shutout innings of relief in Game 2's 18-inning thriller -- perhaps Bochy was right. Perhaps winning the clincher on a wild pitch was only appropriate. It was, Pence's words, a classic example of "finding a way to score."

For Barrett, it was a 50-something-foot fastball that he will never forget.

"It just didn't go my way," Barrett said. "No one's going to feel sorry for me, and I don't expect that. Because I didn't get the job done."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Oct. 7 Matt Williams postgame interview

Oct. 7 Matt Williams postgame interview

Q. What did you tell the team after the loss, and how disappointing was it to see the bullpen have problems in the seventh inning?

MATT WILLIAMS:  Well, I told them that I'm proud of their effort. We established a way to go about this game in spring training, and we accomplished that goal. We played the way we wanted to play and did a lot of things right.

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So, you know, it's tender and it's bitter and all of those things, but I'm proud of them. I'm proud of the way they went about it.

With regard to the bullpen, you know, we had a chance to tie the game there on Bryce's homer and had it set pretty good. They got a couple of base hits and the wild pitch did us in.

You know, that's the way the game goes sometimes, and I'm proud of the way they have gone about it this year and they should be, too.

Q. Can you go through why you went with Thornton and then why you didn't go to Storen and Clippard during that sequence?

MATT WILLIAMS:  During the seventh inning? Because those are our seventh inning guys. That's how we set this up. We had two lefties at the top of the inning, and if we got to the righties, we were going to go with Barrett. That's what he's done for us all year long.

We are certainly not going to use our closer in the seventh inning. So that's why we went with it.

Q. Could you talk about how shocking it was to see Gio couldn't field his position?

MATT WILLIAMS:  It's not shocking. It happens. The ball is hit back at him. The mound is chewed up. There's a huge hole in front of him. It's in between hops, and he didn't catch it.

So it's not shocking. It's disappointing that he wasn't able to make that play. But we have to move on within the game after that.

That's the way it is. That's baseball. Sometimes the ball bounces fine. Sometimes you don't make the play, sometimes you do.

The bottom line to it was we were tied after six. So it's irrelevant at that point.

Q. Did you have a scenario in mind when you were going to Stephen?

MATT WILLIAMS:  It's irrelevant. Did I have a scenario in mind when we were going to Stephen? No, it's irrelevant. Doesn't matter. He didn't pitch.

Q. Did you think about going to him when you went to Roark, or was that just Roark's ‑‑

MATT WILLIAMS:  No, that's Tanner. Stephen, as I told you in pregame, it's emergency‑only for Stephen tonight. We get into late innings, then he's our guy. He's only on three days' rest. Tanner is rested and ready.

Q. Going back into Barrett there, was there any thought to getting Soriano up a little bit sooner in the inning? Did you maybe wait a little too long?

MATT WILLIAMS:  I don't think so. Aaron's been doing that job for us all year long. He's a strikeout guy. He's got the ability to strike that guy out. Unfortunately it was a wild pitch.

So, you know, that happens. But he's been our guy that we've gone to in the middle of orders with every team that we've played all year long to get a big strikeout or get a big out.

Q. What did you think of Gio tonight?

MATT WILLIAMS:  Well, in a normal game, in a normal game and not an elimination game, he may still be in that game. But we know that if we lose it, then we go home. But I thought he was okay.

You know, the unfielded bunt play was the one. But, you know, in a normal game, he may still be in there.

Q. Seeing what Bryce Harper did in this series, what do you think the baseball world thinks of him now?

MATT WILLIAMS:  You know, I don't know. I know that we're proud of him. I know that much. I know that he's got great talent. I know that at this point he is healthy and certainly now, looking forward, with great anticipation to next year.

So I think he played really well in this series.

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Intentional ball turns into wild, reviewed play

Intentional ball turns into wild, reviewed play

SAN FRANCISCO -- History will remember it as a moment of levity, the type to occupy stadium blooper reels for years to come. In the act of intentionally walking Pablo Sandoval in the seventh inning of Tuesday's Game 4 of the National League Division Series, which the Giants took from the Nationals, 3-2, Washington reliever Aaron Barrett sailed ball four all the way to the backstop.

The result was one of the more bizarre postseason plays in any context. Watching Barrett's mistake from third base, Giants catcher Buster Posey raced home. His counterpart, Wilson Ramos, hustled after the ball, grabbing it after it ricocheted off the wall behind home plate. Then Ramos flipped to Barrett, who tagged Posey while blocking most of the plate with his body.

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  Date Time Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 3   SF 3, WAS 2 video
Gm 2 Oct. 4   SF 2, WAS 1 (18 inn.) video
Gm 3 Oct. 6   WAS 4, SF 1 video
Gm 4 Oct. 7   SF 3, WAS 2 video

Crew chief Mike Winters called for a review, and the call was confirmed after video replay. Posey was out. The Nats caught a peculiar break.

"As soon as the ball left my hand, I literally didn't even feel it come out of my hand," Barrett said. "I honestly have no idea what happened. I was just trying to get it to Ramos, and the next thing I know, it's going over his head. It ended up working out. I don't know how. I might have to practice that one in the offseason."

Barrett, who had uncorked a wild pitch earlier in the inning to give the Giants a 3-2 lead, added that he "got lucky" on the play. It's the type of thing -- a pitcher throwing wild on an intentional ball -- that happens once or twice a season in baseball. Usually, it's comical. On rare occasions -- the Angels' Kevin Jepsen in a game against the White Sox three years ago, for example -- the mistake proves significant enough to cost a team a game.

But Barrett's goof came on a postseason stage, at the time looming huge in a one-run game. That's why Giants manager Bruce Bochy came out to argue, ultimately prompting the crew-chief review.

"At that point, I have nothing to lose," Bochy said.

Implemented this season, Major League Baseball's Rule 7.13 has been a point of contention for some catchers and managers. Enacted in an effort to avoid home-plate collisions (and, by extension, unnecessary injuries), the rule states that any defender covering home plate must provide a clear lane for a baserunner. In this instance, Barrett covered most of the plate with his feet, but umpires ruled that he had given Posey enough of a lane to score.

"Everything had to go right," Posey said. "[The ball] had to come up right to him, because it was a close play anyway."

In retrospect, the wild pitch that Barrett unleashed earlier in the inning proved far more damaging to the Nationals, as did the walk that Barrett issued and the two hits Matt Thornton gave up to fuel the rally. Because Posey was tagged out on the play, it did not even go into the record books as a wild pitch, but a fielder's choice.

Yet the play was wild in every other respect.

"I don't know if that was in their playbook," Bochy said, laughing, "but it worked."

Previous replay reviews this postseason

Orioles-Tigers, ALDS Game 3: Schoop's run-saving scoop confirmed

With Tigers catcher Alex Avila at third base and two outs in the second inning, shortstop Andrew Romine bunted toward Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop. The ball was deftly scooped up by Schoop, who flipped the ball to first baseman Steve Pearce in one motion, and umpire Jim Wolf called Romine out. With a run at stake, Detroit manager Brad Ausmus challenged the call. After a two-minute, 28-second review, the call on the field stood. The Tigers would lose, 2-1, and were eliminated from the ALDS.

Cardinals-Dodgers, NLDS Game 2: Overturned call aids Dodgers win

A play on a Dee Gordon grounder to second base that Dodgers manager Don Mattingly challenged in the third inning turned out to be a pivotal play in his club's 3-2 victory. Zack Greinke was on first base when Gordon hit a bouncer to Cards second baseman Kolten Wong, who put the tag on Greinke to get an out call from umpire Eric Cooper. Replays, however, showed Wong had tagged Greinke with his glove while the ball was in his throwing hand, and Greinke was awarded second base after the review. He later scored on an Adrian Gonzalez single.

Giants-Nationals, NLDS Game 2: Call stands; Posey out at home

With the Nationals leading, 1-0, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Pablo Sandoval sliced a ball to the left-field corner with two runners on. Joe Panik easily scored from second, but Buster Posey was called out by home-plate umpire Vic Carapazza after the relay throw beat him by a split second. San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy immediately challenged the call, but it was upheld due to a lack of conclusive evidence.

Giants-Nationals, Game 1 NLDS: Ishikawa safe at second after reversal

With no outs and Travis Ishikawa on second, Jake Peavy laid down a sacrifice bunt. Instead of taking the out at first, Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche threw to second in hopes of gunning down Ishikawa, and umpire Tom Hallion called him out. Bochy challenged the call, and it was overturned after a review of just one minute and one second. Ishikawa would later score in a game the Giants would win 3-2.

Tigers-Orioles, Game 2 ALDS: Markakis' homer confirmed

With one out and one on in the third inning of a scoreless game, Nick Markakis launched a fly ball to right field that bounced off the grounds' crew shed roof in right field and came back onto the field of play. Right-field umpire Paul Schreiber signaled it was a home run, but Tigers manager Brad Ausmus requested the play be reviewed. The call on the field was confirmed, correctly according to the Camden Yards ground rules, which state: Fly ball hitting the grounds crew shed roof in right field and bouncing back into play: HOME RUN.

Dodgers-Cardinals, NLDS Game 4: Molina's laser throw gets Ethier on overturn

The Dodgers' A.J. Ellis was at the plate with runners on first and third and two out in the sixth inning when Cardinals reliever Seth Maness bounced a pitch just behind All-Star catcher Yadier Molina. Andre Ethier darted off third toward the plate and stopped short as Molina came up with one of his patented laser throws that seemed to beat the Dodgers center fielder as he retreated back to the bag. Third-base umpire Jerry Meals called Ethier safe as third baseman Matt Carpenter applied the tag. St. Louis manager Mike Matheny challenged, and after a 92-second review, the call was overturned, ending Los Angeles' rally.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Count Giants skipper Bochy among Rendon's fans

Count Giants skipper Bochy among Rendon's fans

SAN FRANCISCO -- Like he was during the regular season, Anthony Rendon has been the Nationals' best hitter in the postseason.

Entering Tuesday night's Game 4 of the National League Division Series against the Giants, Rendon had gone 7-for-15 with an RBI in the series, and had played flawless defense, his play making an impression on Giants manager Bruce Bochy.

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"He's a good player," Bochy said. "Great player. Solid all around. Tough out. [He is a] very good third baseman. Runs well. This guy is a really nice player. He probably could play anywhere in the infield, too. I think Washington has a guy they are going to keep for a long time."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Nats extend NLDS with Fister's brilliance vs. Giants

Righty fires seven shutout innings; three-run seventh tops Bumgarner

Nats extend NLDS with Fister's brilliance vs. Giants

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Nationals and Giants found themselves in another pitchers' duel in Game 3 on Monday, and this time, it was the Nats who won, 4-1, at AT&T Park to remain alive in the National League Division Series.

Right-hander Doug Fister brought his best to the must-win game, throwing seven shutout innings, allowing four hits and striking out three batters as the Nationals forced a Game 4 on Tuesday (9 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1). 

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The only time Fister was in serious trouble during his outing was in the second inning, when the Giants had the bases loaded with two outs. But Fister struck out San Francisco starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner to end the threat.

After two innings, Fister had thrown 43 pitches, but he lasted long enough to keep the Nats alive in the series.

"I had to make adjustments after the first couple innings," Fister said. "I was a little -- I guess you could say -- strong, as far as trying to overthrow it. I was getting away from my plan a little bit, and getting the ball up in the zone. Lucky for me, I had great defenders that sacrificed themselves to make great plays."

Giants manager Bruce Bochy came away impressed with how Fister was able to get through seven innings.

"[Fister] commands the ball well, four pitches," Bochy said. "You've got to hopefully take advantage of any chances you get. … He's got very good command. He doesn't beat himself. He doesn't walk guys. … And he was on top of his game."

Like in Game 2, the Nationals were having problems on offense over the first six innings of Game 3. In fact, from the fourth inning of Game 2 through the sixth inning of Game 3, the Nats went 21 innings without scoring a run. That changed in the seventh inning, thanks to Bumgarner.

After Ian Desmond singled to left field and Bryce Harper reached base on a walk, third-base coach Bobby Henley walked over to the next hitter, Wilson Ramos, to inform the catcher that the plan was to bunt. The last time Ramos placed a successful bunt was three years ago, so he was surprised when told how he was to advance the runners.

"Probably tomorrow, I'll go to the cage and I will try to bunt more," Ramos said.

The first two pitches to Ramos were right down the middle for strikes. It was tough for Ramos to offer at those pitches, because one was a slider and the other was a cutter.

"Those are tough pitches to bunt," said Ramos. "If I tried to bunt at those pitches, I would hit a popup."

The bunt sign was still on. Ramos said to himself, "Willie, you have to do it, you have to do it."

On the next pitch, Ramos was waiting for a slider, got a fastball instead, and bunted the ball toward Bumgarner, who fielded the ball on the first-base side of the mound but tried to get Desmond at third base. But Bumgarner threw the ball past third baseman Pablo Sandoval for an error that allowed Desmond and Harper to score.

"At the moment, I helped the team," said Ramos. "I did it well, so I'm glad for that."

"You can't throw the ball away," Bumgarner said. "I screwed it up for us. I thought I had a shot right there. Whether we had a shot or not, I think we still had a shot to get Ramos at first base."

With Ramos on second, Asdrubal Cabrera singled to left field. Even though Ramos is the slowest runner on the team, Henley waved Ramos home.

"Willie had a good jump off the hit," Henley said. "We just wanted to be aggressive. We've been aggressive all year. With a lead, we'll take a shot at it. Willie is fast when he wants to be."

Center fielder Denard Span said somebody in the Nationals' dugout yelled, "Noooooo," as Ramos was heading home.

"There was nobody out and there is risk involved with the guy they have on the mound," Henley said. "It took a while for the ball to get to [left fielder Travis] Ishikawa. Willie is fast enough. I thought there had to be a perfect throw, so I decided to send him home."

And the Nats' catcher made it under the tag of Giants counterpart Buster Posey.

Harper also managed to quiet the San Francisco fans, with his glove and his bat. In the second, Harper made a catch up against the wall in left on Brandon Crawford's long fly ball with two men on and one out. In the seventh, Harper made a great sliding catch on a fly ball by Ishikawa with a runner on first and one out.

"Going out there and being able to deal with that sun a little bit, it's very tough," said Harper. "We have that a little bit in D.C. in center, so really had it all year long. It's definitely tough, trying to battle out there. [I was trying to make] some catches and make some plays, and not let them score and not let them hit."

"Guys are going out there sacrificing, and that was a huge sacrifice for him," said Fister. "He's stretching and catching and rolling on the ground. Those kinds of things, guys are sacrificing for the team aspect, and that's what we're doing."

In the ninth, Harper blasted a 1-1 pitch from right-hander Jean Machi over the right-center-field wall to give Washington a four-run lead, Harper's second home run of the series and his third career postseason homer.

After Fister left the game, right-hander Tyler Clippard shut out the Giants in the eighth, but closer Drew Storen made it interesting in the ninth in a non-save situation.

After Sandoval singled and Hunter Pence doubled to left-center field, Storen told himself, "This is not happening again." It was on Saturday in Game 2 that he allowed the game-tying run to score, and he allowed the Cardinals to come back and win Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS.

"I took the emotions out of everything and said, 'Here's what I need to do,'" said Storen. "I made the adjustments."

Storen, relying on the breaking ball and fastball, managed to get Brandon Belt on strikes, then got Crawford to hit a sacrifice fly to Jayson Werth in right field before Ishikawa grounded out to shortstop to end the game.

Manager Matt Williams said his team will be ready for Game 4 on Tuesday.

"We find ourselves in the same position we were in today," Williams said. "If we lose tomorrow, then it's all over. So, you know, we're in the same spot.

"We've got an opportunity to win that game tomorrow. So we have to do things correctly like we did today. We have to play good defense. We have got to execute, if necessary. We know we have to score some runs if we're going to have a chance to do that. That's our objective, and that's our mindset."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Harper complements slugging with defense

Great grabs in left field precede another postseason homer to help Nats force Game 4

Harper complements slugging with defense

SAN FRANCISCO -- Monday's Game 3 of the National League Division Series will be remembered for one errant throw by Giants southpaw Madison Bumgarner. But perhaps just as responsible for the Nationals' 4-1 win was 21-year-old Bryce Harper, who leaped, dove, walked and slugged his squad to a season-extending victory.

Harper stepped up both in left field and at the plate, providing two sparkling plays and a home run as Washington cut its best-of-five series deficit to 2-1.

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  Date Time Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 3   SF 3, WAS 2 video
Gm 2 Oct. 4   SF 2, WAS 1 (18 inn.) video
Gm 3 Oct. 6   WAS 4, SF 1 video
Gm 4 Oct. 7   SF 3, WAS 2 video
With one out and two men on base in the bottom of the second inning, Harper battled the sun to make a leaping catch against the wall, robbing Brandon Crawford of an extra-base hit and stripping San Francisco of at least one run.

"Guys are going out there sacrificing, and that was a huge sacrifice for him," said Nats starter Doug Fister, who tossed seven shutout innings. "He's stretching and catching and rolling on the ground. Those kind of things, guys are sacrificing for the team aspect, and that's what we're doing."

Then, with the Nationals leading 3-0 in the seventh, Harper came bolting in on a line drive by Travis Ishikawa and snagged it at his shoestrings with a runner on second.

"It's a difficult outfield to play," Nats manager Matt Williams said. "Sunny field in left on a day game like this, so it's not easy. ... It wasn't really windy early on, but the wind picked up and he made a couple really nice plays. He was great defensively, went up against the wall and made that play with a couple guys on. That could change the game for us."

"Going out there and being able to deal with that sun a little bit, it's very tough," said Harper. "We have that a little bit in D.C. in center, so really had it all year long. It's definitely tough, trying to battle out there. [I was trying to make] some catches and make some plays and not let them score and not let them hit."

In addition to taking away multiple runs from the Giants, Harper also crossed home plate twice. He walked and scored on the error by Bumgarner in the seventh, and then in the top of the ninth, Harper added the cherry on top: a solo home run to right field off Jean Machi to extend Washington's advantage to 4-0.

Harper now has three career postseason homers -- two in this series -- making him the fourth player to hit that many in the playoffs before turning 22. The others: Mickey Mantle, Miguel Cabrera and Andruw Jones.

Thanks in large part to their slugger with talent beyond his years, the Nationals will play again on Tuesday (9 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1).

"We're going to go out there tomorrow and do what we need to do," Harper said, "and hopefully get some runs up there for Gio [Gonzalez] and get back to D.C. for Game 5."

Aaron Leibowitz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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'Three!' not magic number for Giants as Nats get break

Posey advises Bumgarner to throw to third on Ramos' bunt; error changes complexion of game

'Three!' not magic number for Giants as Nats get break

SAN FRANCISCO -- From his vantage point, Wilson Ramos could see his bunt dribble toward the first-base side of the pitcher's mound at AT&T Park, forcing Madison Bumgarner to pounce to his left and field it. Ramos was running to first, but also watching the play. He saw Ian Desmond slingshot off second base and head toward third, carrying the potential go-ahead run on his back. Then Ramos heard his counterpart, Giants catcher Buster Posey, screaming "Three!" from behind him.

"Oh, Lord," Ramos thought to himself.

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  Date Time Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 3   SF 3, WAS 2 video
Gm 2 Oct. 4   SF 2, WAS 1 (18 inn.) video
Gm 3 Oct. 6   WAS 4, SF 1 video
Gm 4 Oct. 7   SF 3, WAS 2 video

In that instant, everything changed in the seventh inning of Monday's Game 3 of the National League Division Series, tipping all that has happened since Friday on its side. Bumgarner's throw sailed well wide of third baseman Pablo Sandoval, scuttling around near the home bullpen. Desmond scored, Bryce Harper scored, and it proved to be not a rally but an exorcism for the Nationals, who had not plated a run in 21 consecutive innings.

"We were all just waiting for a break," Nats closer Drew Storen said. "I've been saying all along, we just need one little break."

The Nationals instead received a massive one, parlaying Bumgarner's throwing error into a three-run inning and a 4-1 victory. They rocketed out of what manager Matt Williams called "a dire situation," and they're now holding a pitching advantage on paper in Game 4, scheduled for 9 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1.

"It changed the whole game," Ramos said. "Bumgarner was throwing a really good game, but those little things happen in games. If we do the little things, we have an opportunity to win this series."

Monday's little things took the form of a minor miracle, considering the 235-pound Ramos -- "Buffalo," to his teammates -- had not laid down a successful sacrifice bunt in over three years.

When Desmond singled and Harper walked to open the seventh, third-base coach Bob Henley walked down the third-base line to ask him that favor. Ramos admitted to being "nervous" in the moment, even more so when he took three straight pitches to fall into a 1-2 count. But with two strikes, Henley did not remove the bunt sign. Bumgarner unleashed a 1-2 slider. Ramos stuck his bat out and deadened it.

As the ball rolled fair and the runners broke from their respective bases, Posey bellowed for Bumgarner to throw to third.

"I just thought the way it jumped off his bat that we might have a shot," Posey said. "But Desmond had a good jump on it. Probably should have just taken the out at first."

"I shouldn't have done it," Bumgarner said. "But regardless of whether I should have thrown it over there or not, you can't throw the ball away."

Desmond's jump was so quick that he was already sliding into third base when the throw arrived, allowing him to jolt Sandoval off his feet. Asked if he could have moved off the bag in an attempt to corral Bumgarner's throw, Sandoval responded: "You didn't see the play? He took me out. How am I going to get out of the base?"

Instead, Sandoval appeared to injure himself on the play, stretching for several moments later in the inning after he splayed out to catch Doug Fister's bunt. But the man known as "Panda" stayed in at third base, calling it "part of the game."

So too are errors, and so too is momentum. The Nats have it now, thanks to Posey and Bumgarner. Washington appears in every respect to be alive, awake and well.

"I don't know if 'shock' is the word," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "It's such an intense game and I know they want to get that out at third base, but they probably tried to do a little too much there. They've played so well, these types of games. We made a mistake. We've got to learn from it."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Gio approaches Giants from a different angle

Nationals call on their first lefty starter of the NLDS in a must-win Game 4

Gio approaches Giants from a different angle

SAN FRANCISCO -- Baseball has become a sport in which teams try to find the smallest edge. Advanced metrics and extreme defensive shifts are two examples of the trend.

So the simple fact that Gio Gonzalez, the Nationals' starter against the Giants in Game 4 of the National League Division Series, throws with his left hand could be pretty significant as Washington attempts to keep its comeback hopes alive.

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After staving off elimination with a 4-1 win on Monday, the Nats still trail the best-of-five series, 2-1, and face another must-win game at AT&T Park on Tuesday, 9 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1.

  Date Time Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 3   SF 3, WAS 2 video
Gm 2 Oct. 4   SF 2, WAS 1 (18 inn.) video
Gm 3 Oct. 6   WAS 4, SF 1 video
Gm 4 Oct. 7   SF 3, WAS 2 video
The Giants were 58-44 when facing right-handed starters during the regular season, compared to 30-30 against lefties. The first four starters San Francisco faced in the playoffs have been right-handed. So Gonzalez will literally be coming at them from a different angle.

Gonzalez finished strong -- 4-1, 2.48 ERA in September -- but Game 4 will be his first start since shutting out the Mets for seven innings on Sept. 25. He said he's been trying to stay on his routine as much as possible. On regular rest this season, he had a 3.42 ERA. With an extra day, it was 3.52. With more than that, 4.01.

"Keep practicing. Keep doing what I can to get ready," said Gonzalez -- who also noted that he would have been available in the 18-inning Game 2 on Saturday if he'd been called upon -- when asked what he's done to stay sharp. "Still stretch, stay with the same routine, know that it's not over yet."

"Over the last six weeks, he's given us really good pitching performances," said Nationals manager Matt Williams. "His numbers the last month were fantastic. He's been going deep into games and using all his pitches for strikes when he wants to."

Williams speculated that facing Gonzalez might compel the Giants to adjust a lineup that includes five lefty swingers: center fielder Gregor Blanco, second baseman Joe Panik, first baseman Brandon Belt, shortstop Brandon Crawford and left fielder Travis Ishikawa.

One possibility for San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy would be to start rookie Andrew Susac behind the plate and move Buster Posey to first. But that would mean sitting Belt, who is hitting .357 in this series, and Bochy has indicated he has no plan to do that.

Another would be to drop Blanco in the order and move Hunter Pence to the third spot. Bochy said he'd consider it, but he added: "I have no problem with Gregor. He's pretty good."

Third baseman Pablo Sandoval, a switch-hitter who extended his postseason hitting streak to 14 games with a second-inning single in Game 3, had an OPS of .824 this season against right-handers but just .563 against lefties.

Gonzalez pitches with a lot of emotion. During the most recent World Baseball Classic, he talked to Team USA pitching coach Greg Maddux about harnessing that aggression in big games.

"Definitely a situation where you've got to control it," Gonzalez said. "Definitely going to be some emotion. There's going to be some excitement. You get a double play, obviously there's going to be some emotion to that, but it's also staying professional as much as possible.

"In my career and my time playing, I definitely want to stay as composed and relaxed as possible. Picking up from other pitchers, that's the beauty about being a pitcher on the side, watching other people's emotions and the way they go about it, the way they compete, and just staying low key and professional as much as possible."

Gonzalez spent his first four big league seasons with the Oakland A's, who play just across the bay, and he said that familiarity creates a comfortable environment for him.

"I spent half of my career [in the Bay Area]. I've pitched here quite a few times, especially wearing the green and gold," Gonzalez said. "At Starbucks, I had a fan come up to me and say, 'I'm an A's fan and I remember you. Just want to wish you luck.' I definitely get a lot of support from the Bay Area and the green and gold."

Gonzalez didn't face the Giants this season. For his career, he's 2-2 with a 2.59 ERA against San Francisco.

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Focused Storen bounces back in Game 3 win

Nats' closer puts tough start to NLDS behind him

Focused Storen bounces back in Game 3 win

SAN FRANCISCO -- It wasn't a save situation, at least not by the letter of the rule book. When Nationals closer Drew Storen took the mound to start the bottom of the ninth inning against the Giants at AT&T Park in Game 3 of the National League Division Series on Monday, he was protecting a 4-0 lead.

This moment had a little more gravitas than usual, though. Not just because the Nats needed to close out this game to avoid being swept, but because of how they found themselves in that dire situation in the first place.

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Less than 48 hours earlier, at Nationals Park, Washington right-hander Jordan Zimmermann was one out away from shutting out San Francisco and evening the best-of-five series at one game apiece. But when Zimmermann walked Giants second baseman Joe Panik, Nats manager Matt Williams went to Storen, his closer. Buster Posey singled and Pablo Sandoval doubled to tie the score at 1. The Giants ended up winning, 2-1, in 18 innings.

  Date Time Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 3   SF 3, WAS 2 video
Gm 2 Oct. 4   SF 2, WAS 1 (18 inn.) video
Gm 3 Oct. 6   WAS 4, SF 1 video
Gm 4 Oct. 7   SF 3, WAS 2 video
And while it would certainly be an overstatement to say that Storen's confidence needed to be rescued after the first two batters he faced on Monday, the Nationals were obviously breathing easier after he settled down and got the last three outs in what turned out to be a 4-1 win.

This time it was Sandoval blooping a single to center and Hunter Pence following with a double that brought the sellout home crowd to life. But Storen struck out Brandon Belt, swapped a run for an out on Brandon Crawford's sacrifice fly and got Travis Ishikawa to ground out.

Closers need to have short memories, but Storen was eager to get back on the mound after what happened Saturday night.

"That's all you can control, what's in front of you," Storen said. "You've got to be in the moment, especially in the playoffs. If you're out there worrying about the past, worrying about the last game, then it's a lost cause.

"It's good just to be out there again, in general. And to lock that down is huge. It's all about building off it. Building off it as a team and building off it personally. It was good to be back out there. You can't change anything that's happened. You have to just say, 'All right, we've got to make the most of this. I want to be out there finishing this out.' I knew if I locked it in and made quality pitches, everything would take care of itself."

Having runners on second and third with nobody out on Monday, of course, wasn't the way Storen had envisioned it unfolding.

"You've just got to lock it in there," Storen said. "The first hit drops in. It was a good pitch. It just happens. But that's what you have to do. You lock it in and make quality pitches throughout. It's about getting the 'W.' Obviously they're good hitters. So it doesn't have to be pretty, you just have to get that win. I dug myself a nice little hole there to start, but you've just got to get outs. Don't leave anything over the plate for them to take advantage of.

"It's just a matter of really focusing in. You can't give in to these guys. You give them something good to hit there and things can get away from you pretty quick. You adjust your sights, lock in and concentrate on getting outs."

Williams had Rafael Soriano and Matt Thornton warming up in the bullpen behind Storen, who replaced Soriano as the Nationals' closer in September.

"I'm not going to speculate about at what point we would bring them in, but we needed them up and ready and hot," Williams said. "Got guys on second and third and nobody out, it's important for us to shut that game down. We have to win that game. So that's why they were up.

"It was important for [Storen]. It was important for him and important for us to win the game."

Which is why even though it didn't show up as a save in the box score, it sure felt like one.

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Nationals-Giants Game 3: Did You Know?

Nationals-Giants Game 3: Did You Know?

The Nationals finally broke up a scoreless tie with a three-run seventh inning on Monday at AT&T Park, jump-starting a 4-1 victory over the Giants to escape elimination in Game 3 of the National League Division Series. By pulling within 2-1 in the series, Washington forced a Game 4, set for Tuesday in San Francisco (9 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1).

Here's what you should know about Game 3.

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• The Nats snapped the Giants' 10-game postseason winning streak, which was the longest active stretch in the four major professional sports leagues in North America, as well as the longest in NL history.

Longest postseason winning streaks
Teams Years Wins
Yankees 1998-99 12
Yankees 1927-32 12
Giants 2012-14 10
Athletics 1989-90 10
Yankees 1937-41 10
Red Sox 2007-08 9

Bryce Harper's homer in the ninth inning was his second of the series and third of his postseason career. The only other players to hit at least that many before turning 22 are Mickey Mantle, Miguel Cabrera and Andruw Jones, with four.

What a Bum-mer
Madison Bumgarner's scoreless-innings streak ended at 22, the second-longest one in franchise history
Player Inn. Start End
Mathewson 28 10/9/1905 10/14/1911
Bumgarner 22 10/25/2012 10/6/2014
Nehf 19 10/10/1921 10/4/1922
Cain 17 1/3 10/8/2010 10/6/2012
Mathewson 15 10/14/1911 10/17/1911
Courtesy of Stats, Inc.

• Before his throwing error in the seventh inning let the game's first two runs score, San Francisco starter Madison Bumgarner extended his streak of postseason scoreless innings to 22, the second-longest streak in Giants history behind Christy Mathewson's 28 from 1905-11. He passed Matt Cain (17 1/3 innings) and Art Nehf (19 innings) on Monday. Bumgarner also tied Sandy Koufax for the 11th-longest streak among all teams.

• Until that point, the Nationals had gone 21 innings without scoring. Before Asdrubal Cabrera made it a 3-0 game with an RBI single later in the inning, Washington was 1-for-16 with runners in scoring position in the series.

Panda bears down in playoffs
Pablo Sandoval extended his postseason hitting streak to 14 games in Game 3
Player Team Years Games
Hank Bauer NYY 1956-58 17
Derek Jeter NYY 1998-99 17
Manny Ramirez Bos. 2003-04 17
Marquis Grissom Atl. 1995-96 15
Pablo Sandoval S.F. 2012-14 14

• With a single in the second inning, San Francisco 's Pablo Sandoval extended his postseason hitting streak to 14 games, one shy of the NL record and three shy of the Major League record.

• Washington's Doug Fister, who walked as many as two batters in only seven of his 25 regular-season starts, walked two in the span of three batters in the second inning. He later handed out a third free pass to tie his season high, done only one other time.

• Fister (seven innings, four hits, no runs) still put together his seventh straight postseason start of at least six innings and no more than three runs. That ties him with Josh Beckett for the longest streak of quality starts in the playoffs by an active player, and the ninth longest in history.

  Date Time Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 3   SF 3, WAS 2 video
Gm 2 Oct. 4   SF 2, WAS 1 (18 inn.) video
Gm 3 Oct. 6   WAS 4, SF 1 video
Gm 4 Oct. 7   SF 3, WAS 2 video

• Fister is now 2-0 in three career postseason starts when his team is facing elimination, and his team is 3-0 in those contests. With the Tigers, he got the victory in Game 4 of the 2011 American League Division Series at Yankee Stadium, as well as a no-decision in Game 4 of the '13 ALDS, when Detroit beat Oakland.

• Bumgarner went 2-for-6 with a pair of homers with the bases loaded this season, accounting for both grand slams hit by Major League pitchers, but Fister struck him out with the sacks packed to end the second.

• When the Giants' Brandon Belt was thrown out trying to steal second base in the fourth inning, it was only the second steal attempt against Fister this season. Opponents are now 0-for-2.

Wilson Ramos' sacrifice bunt in the seventh inning, which led to Bumgarner's two-run error, was Ramos' first since 2011.

• Nats leadoff man Denard Span went 0-for-12 to start the series before picking up his first hit, a single in the third inning. He ended up 2-for-4 after posting an NL-best 58 multihit games in the regular season.

• The Nationals' No. 3 and 4 hitters, Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche, went hitless on Monday and are a combined 2-for-28 in the series.

• Bumgarner went at least seven innings for the fourth time in eight career postseason starts.

Andrew Simon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Tale of the Tape: Nats-Giants, Game 4

A breakdown of Gonzalez vs. Vogelsong for their NLDS matchup

Tale of the Tape: Nats-Giants, Game 4

Gio Gonzalez, Nationals
Against the Giants
2014: Did not face
Career: 7 GS, 2-2, 2.59 ERA
Loves to face: Hunter Pence, 1-for-12, 2B, 2 BB, 2 K
Hates to face: Brandon Crawford, 2-for-6, HR, 2 RBIs, K

Game breakdown
Why he'll win: Gonzalez hit his stride down the stretch, posting a 2.36 ERA and .191 opponents' average during a streak of seven straight quality starts to end the regular season. He could match up well against a lefty-heavy San Francisco lineup.
Pitcher beware: Gonzalez made his only two previous postseason starts against the Cardinals in the 2012 National League Division Series and lasted five innings in both, walking a total of 11 and surrendering five earned runs.
Bottom line: The Nats are depending on Gonzalez to be sharper than that, even though it'll be 12 days since his most recent game action, on Sept. 25. If he's not, the bullpen could get involved early, with the season on the line.

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  Date Time Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 3   SF 3, WAS 2 video
Gm 2 Oct. 4   SF 2, WAS 1 (18 inn.) video
Gm 3 Oct. 6   WAS 4, SF 1 video
Gm 4 Oct. 7   SF 3, WAS 2 video

Ryan Vogelsong, Giants
Against the Nationals
2014: 2 GS, 0-1, 7.15 ERA
Career: 9 G, 5 GS, 1-2, 6.16 ERA
Loves to face: Bryce Harper, 1-for-8, 0 XBH, 4 K
Hates to face: Ian Desmond, 4-for-10, 2B, 3B, HR, 6 RBIs, 2 K

Game breakdown
Why he'll win: Vogelsong is 3-0 with a 1.09 ERA in four career playoff starts, all in 2012. He was a much better pitcher at home this season, with a 3.06 ERA and a 3.7 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Pitcher beware: The Nats hit Vogelsong well both times they saw him this season, pounding him for six runs in six innings on June 9 at AT&T Park. Current Nationals are batting .299/.371/.494 in 97 plate appearances against him.
Bottom line: Vogelsong, who last pitched on Sept. 26, also will be dealing with an extended layoff as he tries to recapture the postseason magic he found in 2012. A Washington lineup that's had his number -- and woke up late in Game 3 -- will make that a tougher task.

Andrew Simon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Oct. 6 Matt Williams postgame interview

Oct. 6 Matt Williams postgame interview

Q. I guess you knew the dire situation you guys were in today. What did you make of Doug's performance and the ability to win a game?

MATT WILLIAMS: Well, everybody was well aware of where we were at. You know, it doesn't change for tomorrow. Same situation.

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But Doug pitched great. He was in command all day with everything. You know, he just continues to compete for us, and we were able to manufacture something there. Both sides of the diamond, the offense, wasn't there today, but we were able to get a couple guys on and lay down a bunt and that was the difference.

Q. If that throw goes to first base, putting things in motion there, is Fister out?

MATT WILLIAMS: Yeah, I think we'll hit Zimm there. We've got to try to score a run there, and Madison's tough. If you get an opportunity, you have to try.

So, yeah, I think Doug's out of the game, we'll probably hit Zimm there and take our chances.

Q. If you could walk us through the reasoning for bunting with Ramos, and with two strikes, why keep it on? What was the reasoning behind the entire play?

MATT WILLIAMS: Just we've got to get a guy to third base with less than two out. He took the first two. Bumgarner made nice pitches on him on the first two, but he was able to get it down. We practice that every day in our BP rounds, and you never know when you're going to have to do it. So he did a nice job of getting it down.

Q. But I don't think Ramos had a sacrifice for three years. When you gave him the sign, did he give you a double take at all?

MATT WILLIAMS: No, Bobby walked down and talked to him. Yeah, it's a dire situation, we've got to try to score a run. So it's important for us to be able to execute there, and he did. He laid it down nicely.

Q. What did you think of the job Bryce Harper did on offense, and particularly on defense, two run saving plays?

MATT WILLIAMS: It's a difficult outfield to play. Sunny field in left on a day game like this, so it's not easy; wind it wasn't really windy early on, but the wind picked up and he made a couple really nice plays. Of course the homer that added another run for us.

But first and foremost, he was great defensively. Went up against the wall and made that play with a couple guys on; that could change the game for us.

Q. Given how well you know Drew Storen, how important was it for him to get out of the ninth today, given how tough it was yesterday?

MATT WILLIAMS: Yeah, it's important for him. You know, made a good pitch on Blanco, and then the slider to Pence is probably a little bit up. But he did a nice job of staying on it and hitting it. And then he worked out of it.

So that's important for him, important for us, of course, to win the game. Got an another one tomorrow. See what we can do there.

Q. Momentum swings quickly in a five game series. After this win, where do you think you're at? A win tomorrow and you're well ahead here. Can you talk about where you find yourself?

MATT WILLIAMS: We find ourselves in the same position we were today. If we lose tomorrow, then it's all over. So you know, we're in the same spot. You know, we've got an opportunity to win that game tomorrow. So we have to do things correctly like we did today. We have to play good defense. We have got to execute, if necessary. We know we have to score some runs if we're going to have a chance to do that. That's our objective and that's our mind set.

Q. Starting with Span and throughout the lineup, did you see more at bats that looked like the at bats you've had all year?

MATT WILLIAMS: Yeah, better today. Jayson hit a ball with guys on first and second that can easily go through. Panik made a nice play ranging to his left. Spanny stayed on the ball.

Sometimes it's important to see that left on left matchup if you're pulling off or if you're not seeing it well, you tend to stay back a little bit more and that can get him going.

Bryce had a great at bat the first time up and hit Bumgarner and deflected, otherwise that may be a base hit. The lefties stayed on him good today and we were able to get a couple. We feel good about that.

Q. Why is Gio Gonzalez a good man for you tomorrow and what does he give you?

MATT WILLIAMS: Well, over the last six weeks, he's given us really good pitching performances. His numbers the last month of the season, especially, last four starts, were fantastic.

So it may change their lineup a little bit. It may not be so lefty heavy with Gio going tomorrow. So we'll see how that plays. But, you know, he's been really good. He's been going deep in games for us and using all of his pitches for strikes when he wants to. So hope for more of the same tomorrow.

Q. Early on looked like Fister had trouble with his fastball and command was a little off but then he settled in. Is that part of having ten days off between starts, is that a factor?

MATT WILLIAMS: I don't know, I thought he was throwing it where he wanted to throw it. I don't think he was missing if he was missing, it was just by a little bit. I thought he had good command all day.

The fact that he was able to get deep in the game is kind of indicative of him having his command. Yeah, he was fine. I didn't see anything other than him being perfectly comfortable out there from the first inning on.

Q. In the ninth, Soriano and Thornton warming up, when would you have envisioned bringing them?

MATT WILLIAMS: I don't know. They are hot and ready if needed. So I'm not going to speculate at what point we would bring them in. But we needed them up and ready and hot; got guys on second and third and nobody out, it's important for us to shut that game down. We have to win that game. So that's why they were up.

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Oct. 6 Bryce Harper and Doug Fister postgame interview

Oct. 6 Bryce Harper and Doug Fister postgame interview

Q: First couple of innings you used a fair number of pitches, and then in the middle innings you got out pretty quickly. Did you feel like your command was better or did you have it all day long?

DOUG FISTER: I had to make adjustments after the first couple innings. I was a little, I guess you could say, strong as far as trying to overthrow it. I was getting away from my plan a little bit and getting the ball up in the zone. Lucky for me I had great defenders that sacrificed themselves to make great plays. That was - tip my cap.

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Q: Bryce, could you talk about the two catches you made in left field, the one with Crawford early and the one later in the game?

BRYCE HARPER: Going out there and being able to deal with that sun a little bit, it's very tough. We have that a little bit in D.C. in center, so really had it all year long.

It's definitely tough, trying to battle out there. Make some catches and make some plays and not let them score and not let them hit.

Being able to do what Doug did today, all the credit to him, and that was awesome.

Q: You said you had to make some adjustments. Was that from having ten days off or juice of the situation?

DOUG FISTER: I was a little amped up. I had some energy and trying to harness that and focus. I was focused, but I really had to pay attention to find focus today. Wasn't quite wasn't quite where I wanted it, and so we had to, again, make some adjustments. It was a battle for myself trying to mechanical and everything else. It's just a matter of staying with our stuff.

Q: You've had a fair number of success in the post season; what is it about the situation that you have thrived in and how did that help you today?

DOUG FISTER: I think experience definitely helps a little bit. It's a matter of going out there and executing but it's really making sure that each pitch counts. I can't allow the outside influences, like I said yesterday, to get to me.

You know, even being amped up, I've got to go out there and execute. Both teams know each other. We've played quite a bit against each other. They know what we do. And we've just got to go out there and execute. Our guys did that tonight.

Q: You didn't throw any curveballs, maybe three or four all game. Is that just how it happened?

DOUG FISTER: Early on I didn't throw too many. I started throwing quite a few there towards the end. Try to go through the lineup, trying to minimize I want to hide my cards. I don't want to show them everything early.

And that's the strategy we took tonight, and it worked. Guys were going out there and making plays for me.

Q: Drew has said that you guys needed to catch maybe one break or one big play or one momentum shift, and you guys got that with Bumgarner's wild throw. Could that be a turning point, moment in this series?

BRYCE HARPER: Yeah, definitely. We don't have Ramos bunt with two strikes, is something that he doesn't do often. So if we don't have him get that bunt down, at least get us on second and third, but having that errant throw by Bumgarner was huge for us, being able to get to Bumgarner in that situation, because he's carved into every post season start he's ever had, I feel like.

And being able to get two runs right there, and then Drew just comes up and gets that base knock and get some runs up there for Dougy. It was a huge situation for us, and to be able to get those runs up there was huge.

Q: Bryce, when you're in a difficult elimination situation like this, is it a real confidence builder for the lineup, knowing that you've got pitchers of quality going for you?

BRYCE HARPER: Absolutely. He goes out there every single time he pitches, he's got the enthusiasm we need on and off the field. Being able to come in and do what he did today, keep them off balance, being able to pitch and do the things he did today was unbelievable, especially in this hostile environment.

And it was a lot of fun to watch. To be play behind that is always fun, and he did a great job.

Q: You faced Bumgarner and matched up with him a number of times, and another time on a big stage; is that ironic and what do you think of that and the chance to go up against someone like that?

DOUG FISTER: He's obviously one of their better pitchers. He goes out there and pitches his heart out and does a great job. Lucky for us tonight, we had a ball bounce our way and we had some momentum build off of that. But he's a great pitcher and a definite threat both on the mound and at the plate.

So that's somebody that we really had to pay attention to and stick with our guns on that. Our guys really made it tough on him tonight and he held strong. But our guys came through and that's a huge testament to these guys. That home run was huge for us, and just putting good swings on the ball today; our guys were good.

Q: Would you say as a lineup you guys had more normal at bats today, you were getting into counts a little bit more than you had in the first couple games?

BRYCE HARPER: I really think being able to have the at bats we've had all series, we've hit some balls on screws and just hasn't got down. So we know that coming in today, get three runs off Bumgarner definitely was huge and being able to get that momentum swing to us a little bit is definitely huge.

But I really feel like we've been swinging the bat pretty dang well all series and it's just something that, you know, ball needed to fall our way a little bit, and it did.

Q: You've had some really strong outings in this ballpark, almost as close as you get to a home game, did that have anything to do with it? Did you have some home folks here?

DOUG FISTER: It's definitely, again, one of those outside influences that I have to kind of block out being that I do have a lot of family and friends here. It is close to home, but it's something that once I'm on the mound, it's the same thing.

I've got to go out there and just make sure that everything is the same as the regular season, and that's the main focus for me. I can't change anything. The preparation, the execution, it all comes down to just getting it done out there.

Q: What does Bryce's catch against Crawford do for you? That's potentially a couple runs very early in the game.

DOUG FISTER: Like I said earlier, guys are going out there sacrificing, and that was a huge sacrifice for him. He's stretching and catching and rolling on the ground. Those kind of things, guys are sacrificing for the team aspect and that's what we're doing.

We had our backs against the wall and, you know, we came out swinging tonight. Guys are playing together, communicating well and that's huge for us.

We've got some momentum tonight. You know, we need to carry that into tomorrow, and guys are excited. We had our our light show after the win, and guys are excited to get back out tomorrow.

Q: You guys didn't score runs until late; do you think this game overall is more representative of what you can do as a team?

BRYCE HARPER: I think Bumgarner just threw very well. He goes out there and establishes the inside part of the plate, the outside part of the plate. His curveball is good, his slider he'll throw heaters and 0 2 counts that surprise you a little bit. He's a great guy, great pitcher out there and being able to get to him late, score those three runs, get that W and get us that W was definitely huge.

We're going to go out there tomorrow and do what we need to do and hopefully get some runs up there for Gio and get back to D.C. for Game 5.

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Williams holds steady with lineup for Game 3

Williams holds steady with lineup for Game 3

SAN FRANCISCO -- Nationals manager Matt Williams decided not to start slugger Ryan Zimmerman and catcher Jose Lobaton in Game 3 of the National League Division Series against the Giants on Monday.

Williams indicated earlier in the series that giving Zimmerman a start in one of the games was possible. The most likely game would have been Game 3, because left-hander Madison Bumgarner started for San Francisco.

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Williams pointed out that Zimmerman had been 3-for-17 (.176) with a home run and three RBIs in his career against Bumgarner, and that Williams was comfortable with left-handed hitters Bryce Harper and Adam LaRoche facing Bumgarner. Harper was 3-for-9, and LaRoche 6-for-21, against Bumgarner.

  Date Time Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 3   SF 3, WAS 2 video
Gm 2 Oct. 4   SF 2, WAS 1 (18 inn.) video
Gm 3 Oct. 6   WAS 4, SF 1 video
Gm 4 Oct. 7   SF 3, WAS 2 video
Zimmerman missed most of the second half of the regular season because of a Grade 3 injury to his right hamstring, but Williams said health was not the reason Zimmerman did not start.

"There will certainly be opportunity for [Zimmerman], we hope, during the course of the game, to come up with a big at-bat for us," Williams said. "Zim's numbers against Bumgarner are not great. So our lefties hit him pretty well. We've got some hits and some RBIs and some homers against him. That's the reason."

Lobaton has a great rapport with right-hander Doug Fister. With Lobaton behind the plate, Fister had a 1.53 ERA during the regular season. Lobaton was behind the plate when Fister pitched a shutout in his final start of the regular season, against the Marlins. When Wilson Ramos was behind the plate, Fister had a 2.99 ERA.

Williams liked Ramos on Monday because the catcher can be a game changer with the bat.

"Wilson has the ability, with one swing of the bat, to change the face of the game," Williams said. "But with regard to the first two games, we need to make sure that we look to put our best offensive team in there, as well.

"But, you know, with the day game here, the ball carries a little bit better than it does at night. The weather's warm, so my experience, playing here in this area, and certainly this ballpark during the day, it's a better park to hit in."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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MLB.com Columnist

Mike Bauman

Now is time for NL-best Nats to reveal themselves

Now is time for NL-best Nats to reveal themselves

SAN FRANCISCO -- It is time for the Washington Nationals to display their better selves, to demonstrate why they were the National League's best team over 162 regular-season games.

"We don't have a choice," Nats manager Matt Williams said Sunday when asked about his club's plans to bounce back from a 2-0 NL Division Series deficit against the San Francisco Giants.

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  Date Time Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 3   SF 3, WAS 2 video
Gm 2 Oct. 4   SF 2, WAS 1 (18 inn.) video
Gm 3 Oct. 6   WAS 4, SF 1 video
Gm 4 Oct. 7   SF 3, WAS 2 video

That's it. It will be win-or-go-home time for the baseball team representing our nation's capital when it plays Game 3 on Monday at AT&T Park (5 p.m. ET, MLB Network).

When you examine what has happened in the two NLDS games the Nats lost at Nationals Park, there has been no layer of mystery surrounding the proceedings. Some people want to read these events as indications of a lack of character. It seems to be much more plainly a lack of hitting.

The Nationals received a quality start from Stephen Strasburg in Game 1 and a brilliant start from Jordan Zimmermann in Game 2. That kind of starting pitching, the typical ticket to postseason success, was not enough. It was not enough because the Nats scored three runs in 27 innings.

That six-hour, 23-minute marathon Saturday night was like a prolonged drought. The Washington club was in the offensive equivalent of the Gobi Desert, and no one ever found a water hole.

It's a small sample size, but it's an extreme sample. If you take third baseman Anthony Rendon's 5-for-11 out of the mix, the remaining Nationals hit .120 in the first two games of the series.

This, Williams says, can be fixed. Unfortunately, in Game 3 it will have to be fixed against the ace of the Giants' staff, Madison Bumgarner. On the plus side, the Nats are going with Doug Fister, a proven veteran coming off a big season. But runs will have to be scored against Bumgarner for the Nats to remain in this postseason.

Williams' analysis of his club's hitting shortcomings had to do with the nature of the work of the first two San Francisco starters, Jake Peavy and Tim Hudson. Both of them, Williams said, "live down in the strike zone and below the strike zone." And that was the problem.

"I think that we have swung at some pitches that have been down and out of the strike zone , which has resulted in some early outs and not being able to string things together," Williams said. "It doesn't get any easier [Monday], for sure, so we have to get back to what we do and relax and go about our business. … We have got to do a better job, certainly, of getting good pitches to hit and being a little more patient."

This is a view that is shared in the Nationals' clubhouse. But it also points out the difficulty that the Giants' pitchers would pose for any opponent right now.

"Sometimes, you've got to give credit to the other guys," Nats shortstop Ian Desmond said Sunday. "Yes, we've been chasing, but in a sense, that's a credit to them, because they haven't been making mistakes over the plate, either."

Part of this may be as simple as a more patient approach at the plate, but it will also answer a question as to the resiliency of this club. Again, you don't put up the best record in the NL two out of three years by rolling over at the first sign of adversity. But the spotlight gets bigger this month, and the glare becomes brighter.

The Nationals believe that they have this aspect of their situation covered.

"We've been backed into a corner before," Fister said. "We've been through a lot of ups and downs, and I think that's something that's definitely going to help us here, where we're down, 0-2."

Williams said that there was nothing wrong with the mood or the spirit of his club.

"They are fine," the manager said. "We have an optional workout today, but the buses are full and they are itching to get back out there and work."

If you want to deal with adversity, here is a full dose: The Nats are on the brink of postseason elimination, on the road, facing the home team's best starting pitcher, having scored three runs in the last 27 innings. Looked at in this light, this is a gold mine of adversity.

If the Nationals could overcome it, this would be one of the greatest comebacks in the history of postseason baseball. But it has to start in Game 3, against one of the best pitchers in the game.

Mike Bauman is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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