WASHINGTON -– It dragged on longer than a session of Congress. It involved almost every soul on both rosters. It was the longest Major League Baseball postseason game ever played.
And more than three hours after Pablo Sandoval tied it with two out in the ninth inning, Brandon Belt won it in the 18th.
Belt smashed through the castle wall and ended one of the greatest dug-in sieges the sport has ever seen, flicking his wrists and catapulting an upper-deck home run on a full-count pitch from Tanner Roark.
Hunter Strickland recorded the save as the Giants prevailed 2-1 over the Washington Nationals to take a 2-0 lead and full command as their best-of-5 NL Division Series shifts to AT&T Park.
The game ended three ticks after midnight and lasted six hours, 23 minutes – besting the previous record of five hours, 50 minutes set when the Astros needed 18 innings to beat the Braves in Game 4 of an NLDS in 2005.
Yes, two games in postseason history have lasted as long as 18 innings. And by gum, Tim Hudson started both of them. On that night nine years ago, Hudson left with a 6-1 lead. It ended up being just one more occasion – there have been six in all, without success -- when Hudson’s team failed to escape the endlessly fickle best-of-5 division round.
Hudson did everything in his power Saturday night to give the Giants a commanding edge in their series against the powerful Nationals, pitching tremendously into the eighth inning.
But Jordan Zimmermann dominated the Giants with fastball after fastball, doing a fair impression of top-form Matt Cain with his compact delivery and no-frills power, and the Giants managed just three singles against him.
The Gians trailed 1-0 in the ninth when Nationals manager Matt Williams took out Zimmermann after Joe Panik drew a two-out walk, and it required three pitches to Buster Posey and Sandoval – a single and a double – for the Giants to stun the sellout crowd and tie it. It took a perfect relay to the plate for the Nats to preserve even that much, as Posey, who was not lifted for a pinch runner, was thrown out trying to score from first base.
The Giants needed more than one quality start to win, though. They got one from Yusmeiro Petit, who held the Nationals to one hit and struck out seven in six shutout innings – each time knowing a single run would make the Giants walk-off losers.
Petit became the first pitcher to throw at least six shutout innings of relief and win a postseason game since Pedro Martinez in 1999.
Starting pitching report
Hudson split and sank his way through the Nationals lineup but couldn’t solve Anthony Rendon, who accounted for four of the seven hits he allowed – including a two-out, RBI single in the third inning.
The right-hander was booed during introductions and again when he came to the plate, proving that Nationals fans are aware of their history. The bald purveyor of sinker/split/slider combinations was 18-5 with a 2.35 ERA in 31 starts against the Nats, and accounted for the Giants’ only two victories against them this season.
He shrugged off a rotten September in which he had nearly as many earned runs as innings pitched, and the extra rest had to be good for his ailing hips. Hudson was marvelous, throwing an assortment of hittable yet not breakable pitches to get the Giants back in the dugout.
He ran into trouble in the third, though, when Asdrubal Cabrera doubled into the left field corner and Rendon lined a two-out, RBI single to give the Nationals their first lead of the series.
Hudson had to make plenty more pitches from the stretch, but stranded a runner in scoring position in the fourth and sixth. A sequence in the fourth was particularly gutsy, when Ian Desmond stole second base and, despite having a base open, Hudson threw a challenge fastball on a 3-2 count to Bryce Harper. It had enough late movement to find Buster Posey’s glove for a strikeout.
Hudson was so efficient, and the Giants were so deficient at turning over the lineup to get to his spot in the order, that he was still on the mound in the eighth. He struck out Denard Span, then Rendon laid off a pair of tough two-strike pitches before lining a single to center. Hudson’s arms went into a rag-doll flail, and he knew he’d be handing over the baseball.
Hudson allowed one run on seven hits and no walks on 97 pitches while matching his season high with eight strikeouts.
Jean Machi retired Jayson Werth on a fly ball, but after Rendon stole second base, Bruce Bochy decided to get a matchup with Javier Lopez against Adam LaRoche. He brought in the left-hander with an 0-1 count, and Lopez recorded a strikeout.
Sergio Romo retired the Nats in the ninth and Jeremy Affeldt came on for the 10th. He fell behind 3-0 to Asdrubal Cabrera, who began walking to first base after taking a high 3-1 pitch. But Carapazza called it a strike, and Cabrera took a long walk back to the box while making his thoughts known. The next pitch was near the top of the strike zone as well, and when Carpazza rang up Cabrera, the veteran infielder immediately slammed his bat and his helmet. Carapazza ejected him, and also ejected Williams after a brief argument.
Pinch hitter Kevin Frandsen had been in the on-deck circle and announced in the press box, but apparently not on the field because Ryan Zimmerman was allowed to pinch hit instead. The umpires came to that decision after a lengthy conference.
Zimmerman lined a single before Affeldt induced a double-play grounder to send the game to the 11th.
Then Bochy, eschewing the whole “save your closer to protect a lead on the road” thing, used Santiago Casilla to face the heart of the Nationals order. Carapazza gave him another call on a perfectly placed outside fastball to Rendon as Casilla retired the Nats’ 2-3-4 batters.
Petit was next, and despite walking the first batter of his postseason life, he settled down and threw strikes while tossing five shutout innings. The Nats threatened in the 15th when Denard Span ran with the pitch and Rendon hit a deep drive to center, but Gregor Blanco ran it down at the warning track. La Roche flied out to the track in right field in the 16th.
Petit became the seventh pitcher in history to throw at least six shutout innings of relief in a postseason game. He became the first to complete that task and win since Pedro Martinez in the 1999 ALDS.
Strickland pitched around a two-out walk in the 18th – the first he’s issued since June 25, when he was a Richmond Flying Squirrel facing Harrisburg – and got Jayson Werth to line out to right field to end it.
At the plate
The Giants beat Stephen Strasburg on Friday by not being afraid to take early-count swings, lest the best pitch of an at-bat be the first one. The Nationals and Zimmermann took note of that.
There was no sense fooling around, and Zimmermann came straight at the Giants with his mid-90s fastball, sinking it and cutting it and keeping it off the barrel.
Posey hit a two-out single in the first inning. Hunter Pence hit a leadoff single in the second, and was thrown out trying to steal on a strikeout-double play. Travis Ishikawa hit a leadoff single in the third and Hudson sacrificed him over, but Gregor Blanco struck out on a fastball that knifed across the inside edge and Joe Panik grounded out.
In fact, after Ishikawa’s single up the middle in the third, Zimmermann retired the next 18 batters -- the first 13 of whom didn’t hit the ball out of the infield.
The Nationals did not give away extra outs, either, as Adam LaRoche did with a poor decision the previous night.
Zimmermann got two quick outs in the ninth but Joe Panik drew a five-pitch walk, the first drawn by anyone all night. Zimmermann was at exactly 100 pitches, yet Nationals manager Matt Williams pulled him for Storen, who couldn’t throw the final strike to beat the Cardinals in the NLDS two years ago.
Storen gave up the lead in three pitches. Posey hit a lilting single to center field and then Sandoval, after fouling off the first pitch, dug out the next one for a double into the left field corner. Panik scored and third base coach Tim Flannery sent Posey, who gritted his teeth as he sprinted home.
Shortstop Ian Desmond made a strong relay to the plate and catcher Wilson Ramos applied the tag to Posey’s hip as his foot skipped over the plate. Umpire Vic Carapazza called him out, and after a lengthy delay, replay officials opted to let the call stand, ending the inning.
The Giants had a couple of chances in extra innings, none better than when Hunter Pence hit a leadoff double off the base of the center field wall in the 12th. But Brandon Crawford couldn’t coax his lunging pop-up out of the infield, and pinch hitter Andrew Susac hit a dribbler to end the inning.
It took a big swing, and Belt finally delivered against the Nationals’ ninth and final pitcher. The Nats matched a postseason record for pitchers used – in a game when their starter was one out away from a shutout.
Sandoval extended his club-record postseason hitting streak to 13 games.
Desmond earned extra style points in the eighth inning when he raced from his shortstop position into left field and made a back-to-the-infield catch on Brandon Belt.
Second baseman Danny Espinosa made a diving catch of Sandoval’s line drive in the 17th.
The Nationals announced 44,035 paid. They came to watch a game. They ended up taking part in a longitudinal study.
The Giants and Nationals play Game 3 of their NL Division Series on Monday at AT&T Park. Madison Bumgarner (1-0, 0.00 ERA in the postseason, 18-10, 2.98 ERA in the regular season) takes the ball against Nationals right-hander Doug Fister (16-6, 2.41 in the regular season) in a rematch of the Game 2 matchup from the 2012 World Series against the Detroit Tigers. First pitch is scheduled for 12:07 p.m. PDT but would be pushed back to 2:07 p.m. PDT if the Kansas City Royals sweep the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday in their AL Division Series.