Big Home Runs Swing Close NL Division Series Games Saturday

The big home run was the story in Saturday’s NL Division Series games, from Brandon Belt to Matt Kemp to an honorable mention to Matt Carpenter. The other story was that every one of these games in every single series, in both leagues, continues to be great. San Francisco beats Washington 2-1 in 18 innings. Los Angeles survives St. Louis 3-2. The only blowout score in any Division Series game was Baltimore beating Detroit 12-3 in Game 1, and that was a one-run game in the eighth inning.

Here’s a few thoughts on the wins of the Giants and Dodgers yesterday…
San Francisco 2 Washington 1 (18): It tied for the longest postseason game in history, matching Atlanta-Houston back in 2005. In terms of clock time, it was the longest.
At least the good people of Washington D.C. had an early evening start on the weekend. The crowd was great and stayed mostly to the end, save for some shamefully empty seats behind home plate that were probably held by political figures who had to get back to work crafting the next dishonest campaign ad, all in the name of the public good of course. But I digress.
One way or another, this game should have ended in nine innings. Nationals manager Matt Williams is catching heat for pulling his starter Jordan Zimmerman, with two outs in the ninth and a 1-0 lead. The criticism is correct. Zimmerman was unhittable, with a three-hit shutout going, and had only walked pesky Joe Panik. The pitch count was 100. Washington’s bullpen is good and balanced, but the closer’s role has been uncertain, and Drew Storen has a meltdown in the 2012 Division Series against St. Louis on his resume.
BaseballI’m not saying one meltdown means that Storen is forever going to be bad in October, but when you add all of it together, there was not a single good reason not to let Zimmerman pitch to Buster Posey. Instead, Storen came in, gave up a single to Posey and a double to Pablo Sandoval. Game tied.
And here we come to the next place the game should have ended. Posey tried to score on Sandoval’s hit and was thrown out at the plate by the narrowest of margins. With the naked eye, he appeared out, because the ball beat him there. After a first look at replay, he looked safe, because the tag came in high. After a second look at replay, you wondered if the bottom of his heel had touched home plate in time.
The call on the field was out. The commentators, both here and later on the Cardinal-Dodgers game told audiences that the call was “confirmed by replay.” To the best of my knowledge, we don’t know that. To use NFL parlance, we don’t know if the call was “confirmed”, as in it was correct, or simply “stands”, because there wasn’t conclusive video evidence to overturn.
I thought Posey was safe. Am I sure enough about that say it meets the “indisputable” standard? No, I’m not. I say he was safe with about 60-65 percent certainty, and that leaves a large room for dispute.

Here’s my issue though—why do we require instant replay to be 100 percent sure before overturning? Why do we give a presumed benefit of the doubt to the call that was made in real time, bang-bang, rather than to the guy who was umpteen video angles and enough time to get it right? More important, if we’re stopping the game, going to video, calling up a guy in New York, why not just tell the guy to give us the right call?
If you believe Posey was out, I respect that. I don’t agree, but as I said, it was really close. What I don’t like is the weasel tactic if saying “it wasn’t indisputable”. Get people on the video with enough guts to make a stand, and change the rules to make it absolutely clear that once the replay official gets involved, we don’t care what the original call was.
The extra innings kind of dragged on, with only a couple situations that could be remotely called a “rally.” And even those were just a guy getting to second, or reaching third with two outs. Nothing that felt impossible to get out of.
Brandon Belt finally ended it with a home run in the 18th, and San Francisco rookie Hunter Strickland closed it out. A huge shout out to Yusmeiro Petit, who threw six shutout innings in relief and got the win.
It’s a pretty significant indictment of the Nationals’ hitters that they couldn’t get to Petit. San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy left Tim Lincecum in the bullpen. Bochy managed—as he should have—like one who had won the first game and wasn’t going to leave his entire staff running on empty for Game 3. That the Nationals can’t score one run in six innings off a spot starter/long reliever will haunt them as much as Williams’ ill-fated decision did, at least if they can’t turn this around.

Los Angeles 3 St. Louis 2: This game was no less exciting, but a lot more straightforward when it comes to writing about it afterward. Zack Greinke was dominant for seven innings, and left with a 2-0 lead. The bullpen came in the eight, and J.P. Howell promptly gave up a two-run homer to Matt Carpenter, a circumstance that should remove any doubt about the wisdom of Don Mattingly’s decision to stick with Clayton Kershaw in the fatal seventh inning of Game 1.
For the second game in a row, the St. Louis bullpen showed its own holes. Pat Neshek has been great all year, but he gave up a long home run to Matt Kemp in the bottom of the inning that saved the Dodgers. Neshek represents the biggest edge the Cardinals have in this series, as a reliable setup man against a team that has none. If he doesn’t pitch well—or if he’s tired from the stretch drive, as media reports suggest—it’s going to hurt St. Louis’ chances.
The National League travels today, with action resuming in St. Louis and San Francisco on Monday. Sunday sees Game 3 of the AL Division Series go, with the Orioles-Tigers at 3:45 PM ET, and followed by Royals-Angels. Baltimore and Kansas City can clinch sweeps. The Royals are at home, while the Orioles are now in Detroit.