Brandon Belt’s 18th-inning homer sends Giants up 2-0 in NLDS over the Nationals

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Through 17 innings, both the Giants and the Nationals had combined for two runs on 16 hits and seven walks. The cold wind blowing in at Nationals Park combined with the sterling pitching on both sides left hitters praying for anything, even a bleeder through the infield.

The game went into the 18th inning, becoming only the second playoff game to reach that plateau, joining Game 4 of the 2005 NLDS between the Astros and Braves. Tanner Roark had thrown a scoreless inning of relief and the Nationals needed him to continue as he took the mound to start the inning.

Roark missed his spot with a fastball badly — catcher Wilson Ramos set up on the outside corner, but Roark’s fastball was left right over the plate. Brandon Belt, who was 0-for-6 leading up to his at-bat against Roark, did not miss, hitting a no-doubter over the fence in right field to put the Giants up 2-1.

Hunter Strickland came on in the bottom half of the 18th and set Danny Espinosa and Denard Span down quietly. He issued a two-out walk to Anthony Rendon before bouncing back and getting Jayson Werth to fly out to right field to end the game.

The Nationals had the game very nearly won, as Jordan Zimmermann was working on a three-hit shutout with two outs in the ninth inning. The Nationals had scored the game’s only run at that point in the third inning on Anthony Rendon’s two-out RBI single. Zimmermann walked Joe Panik, forcing manager Matt Williams to call on Drew Storen from the bullpen to nail down the save — a decision that will surely be second-guessed in the time between now and the start of Game 3. Storen served up a single to Buster Posey, then Pablo Sandoval sliced a line drive down the left field line, allowing the Giants to easily tie the game at 1-1. Posey was following Sandoval home and was tagged out on a well-executed relay throw from left fielder Bryce Harper to shortstop Ian Desmond, who made a good throw home to catcher Wilson Ramos. The tag was reviewed and home plate umpire Vic Carapazza’s out ruling was upheld, sending the game into the 10th.

There was a bit of drama in the bottom of the 10th inning, as Carapazza made a debatable strike call on a 3-1 pitch from reliever Jeremy Affeldt to Nationals second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera. Cabrera was clearly unhappy with the call, ostensibly with a slight delay from Carapazza. Affeldt’s 3-2 pitch was nearly in the same location and Carapazza rung up Cabrera emphatically. Cabrera slammed his bat, then his helmet, before confronting Carapazza, who quickly ejected him. Manager Matt Williams rushed out to defend his player and was shortly thereafter ejected as well. From there, both sides would exchange goose eggs with sterling relief work.

Giants reliever Yusmeiro Petit will wind up the game’s unsung hero, as he threw six scoreless innings of relief, when the Giants’ bullpen was nearly exhausted, before giving way to Strickland. Starter Tim Hudson — who also started that 18-inning game in 2005, coincidentally — is not to be forgotten, either, as he was every bit Zimmermann’s equal, despite allowing a two-out, third-inning run to the Nationals on an Anthony Rendon single. Hudson went 7 1/3, allowing seven hits (six singles) while striking out eight and issuing no walks.

The series will resume in San Francisco on Monday with the Giants leading the Nationals two games to none. The Nationals will have to rely on Doug Fister to stave off elimination, while the Giants will counter with Madison Bumgarner, who tossed a four-hit shutout against the Pirates in the National League Wild Card game on Wednesday.

Bryce Harper played some third base in an intrasquad game

Bryce Harper third base
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Phillies star outfielder Bryce Harper played some third base during Monday’s intrasquad game at Citizens Bank Park, Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reports. Harper had been pestering manager Joe Girardi for the opportunity and the skipper finally gave in.

Girardi told Harper, “No diving. And make sure your arm is loose.” Harper had the opportunity to field one ball, a grounder to his left and he made the play perfectly.

Why put Harper at third base? Girardi said, “I think it’s important the guys have fun. I saw him a week ago taking ground balls there and I was impressed. His hands worked well out front and he threw the ball across the field well. I told him, ‘You look good there.'”

Despite the solid showing, don’t expect Harper to show up at third base in a meaningful game anytime soon. That being said, the Phillies’ second and third base situations are still not cemented. Jean Segura will likely open the season at the hot corner with Scott Kingery at second, but things could change between now and Opening Day in 10 days.

Harper, 27, is coming off a solid first season with the Phillies. He hit .260/.372/.510 with 36 doubles, 35 home runs, 114 RBI, 98 runs scored, and 15 stolen bases across 682 plate appearances. Per FanGraphs, Harper’s 4.6 Wins Above Replacement ranked 16th in the National League. For some people, those numbers weren’t nearly good enough, so the expectations remain high as Harper enters year two of his 13-year, $330 million contract.