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.

Astros owner Crane expects to hire new manager by Feb. 3

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HOUSTON (AP) — Houston Astros owner Jim Crane expects to hire a new manager by Feb. 3.

The Astros need a new manager and general manager after AJ Hinch and Jeff Luhnow were fired Monday, hours after both were suspended by Major League Baseball for a year for the team’s sign-stealing scandal.

Crane said Friday that he’s interviewed a number of candidates this week and has some more to talk to in the coming days.

Crane refused to answer directly when asked if former Astros player and Hall of Famer Craig Biggio was a possibility for the job. But he did say that he had spoken to Biggio, fellow Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell and former Astros star Lance Berkman in the days since the firings.

“We’ve talked to all of our Killer B’s,” Crane said referring to the nickname the three shared while playing for the Astros. “They’ve contacted me and they’ve all expressed that they would like to help. Berkman, Bagwell, Biggio have all called and said: ‘hey, if there’s anything I can do, I’m here for you.’”

“So we’ll continue to visit with those guys and see if there’s something there.”

Crane says his list is still rather extensive and that he hopes to have it narrowed down by the end of next week. He added that he expects most of Hinch’s staff to stay in place regardless of who is hired.

Crane has enlisted the help of three or four employees to help him with the interview process, including some in Houston’s baseball operations department.

“We compare notes,” he said. “I’ve learned a long time ago that you learn a lot if four or five people talk to a key candidate and you get a lot more information. So that’s what we’re doing.”

Crane’ top priority is finding a manager with spring training less than a month away, but he said he would start focusing on the search for a general manager after he hires a manager. He expects to hire a GM before the end of spring training.

“We should have another good season with the team pretty much intact … so I don’t know why a manager wouldn’t want to come in and manage these guys,” he said. “They’re set to win again.”

The penalties announced by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred on Monday came after he found illicit use of electronics to steal signs in Houston’s run to the 2017 World Series championship and again in the 2018 season. The Astros were also fined $5 million, which is the maximum allowed under the Major League Constitution, and must forfeit their next two first- and second-round amateur draft picks.

The investigation found that the Astros used the video feed from a center field camera to see and decode the opposing catcher’s signs. Players banged on a trash can to signal to batters what was coming, believing it would improve the batter’s odds of getting a hit.

With much still in flux, Crane was asked what qualities are most important to him in his next manager.

“Someone mature that can handle the group,” he said. “Someone that’s had a little bit of experience in some areas. We’ve just got to find a leader that can handle some pressure and there’s going to be a little bit of pressure from where this team has been in the last few months.”

Despite his comment about experience, Crane said having been a major league manager before is not mandatory to him.

“We made some mistakes,” he said. “We made a decision to let that get behind us. We think the future is bright. We’ll make the adjustments … people think we’re in crisis. I certainly don’t believe that.”