Thoughts from an 18-inning marathon

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It shouldn’t have been an 18-inning game. If Nationals manager Matt Williams had just stuck with Jordan Zimmermann in the ninth, his club most likely would have beaten the Giants 1-0 to even the NLDS at a game apiece.

But, then, the most likely outcome with Drew Storen entering with a man on first and two down in the ninth was also a 1-0 Nationals victory. Storen, while not necessarily terrific coming on with runners on base, had gone his last 23 appearances without allowing an earned run. He finished the season with a ridiculous 1.12 ERA. Yes, he had something of a meltdown in his previous postseason appearance two years earlier, but that’s not something that should have been factored in tonight. He’s been pitching about as well as any NL reliever.

So, no, I’m not going to slam Williams for the choice. I didn’t think Zimmermann needed to come out, but I didn’t see anything wrong with Storen coming in.

– Of course, the Giants went on to win 2-1 in 18 innings, thanks to a Brandon Belt homer and a host of fine pitching. Yusmeiro Petit joined the small list of pitchers to throw six scoreless innings of relief in a postseason game. Pedro Martinez did it, not giving up a hit in the process, to clinch Game 5 of the 1999 ALDS for the Red Sox. Petit struck out seven and allowed just one hit to earn the victory.

– When Petit came in, my initial thought was that the Giants just hurt their chances of winning Game 4; they hadn’t announced whether Petit or Ryan Vogelsong would pitch that game. Obviously, Game 4 or no, Bruce Bochy made the right call.

– Tim Hudson, who has started both 18-inning games in postseason history, was terrific in what was shaping up as a losing cause, giving up one run in 7 1/3 innings. Hudson is now just one Giants win away from going to an LCS for the first time in his illustrious career; his teams were 0-for-6 in LDS play (the A’s were 0-for-4, the Braves 0-for-2). That previous 18-inning affair was between the Braves and Astros in Game 4 of the 2005 NLDS. Hudson allowed three runs in seven-plus innings, and the Braves lost hours later on a Chris Burke homer.

– In all, the two teams tonight hit .143 in 119 at-bats. They slugged .193. The Giants were 8-for-57 with 14 strikeouts. The Nationals were 9-for-62 with 20 strikeouts.

– Facing elimination, the Nationals will have a tough call on whether to play Ryan Zimmerman on Monday against left-hander Madison Bumgarner. It’d be nice to squeeze him in somehow, but doing so would weaken the defense. Also, Zimmerman is a mere 3-for-17 with a homer off Bumgarner in his career. The candidates to be bumped — Bryce Harper (3-for-9, 1 HR), Asdrubal Cabrera (2-for-3) or Adam LaRoche (6-for-21, 3 2B) — have all been more successful, though those numbers mean next to nothing (or maybe just nothing).

Tigers manager Gardenhire announces immediate retirement

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
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DETROIT — Ron Gardenhire mostly maintained his jovial demeanor this season. As recently as Friday night, he was needling a reporter while discussing a strategic decision from the late innings.

Less than 24 hours later, Gardenhire announced his retirement. This year was taking more of a toll on the 62-year-old Detroit Tigers manager than he’d necessarily let on.

As much as he enjoyed managing, Gardenhire valued his health more.

“It’s been wonderful here, but I also know I have to take care of myself,” said Gardenhire, who was nearing the end of his third season with the Tigers. “When you come to the ballpark, and you’re stressed out all day, and your hands are shaking, that’s not fun. I’ve got grandbabies, I’ve got kids that I need to take care of, and my wife.”

Gardenhire’s announcement came in an abruptly scheduled video conference about an hour before Saturday night’s game against Cleveland. General manager Al Avila said he made a routine visit to Gardenhire’s office Saturday, when the manager told him about the decision.

Gardenhire, who has battled cancer and diabetes, recently missed a couple games because of stomach issues.

“This is tough. It’s a tough day for me. Didn’t expect it, tell you the truth, when I walked in,” Gardenhire said. “But I just know how I’ve been feeling lately, and I expressed that to Al, and elected to just go ahead and step down.”

A message of “Thank you, Gardy” was posted on the scoreboard at Comerica Park.

“On behalf of all of us with the Detroit Tigers, congratulations to Ron Gardenhire on a tremendous managerial career,” Tigers CEO Christopher Ilitch said in a statement. “One of the best baseball men around, we’re fortunate to have had Gardy lead our team for the past three seasons, and during this rebuilding period. He has done a great job in shaping the future successes I know our organization will see.”

Bench coach Lloyd McClendon is taking over as manager for the rest of the season, which is scheduled to end Sept. 27. Detroit was 21-29 heading into Saturday’s game and was unlikely to make the postseason.

Gardenhire previously had a 13-year run with the Minnesota Twins that included six AL Central titles.

“I’d like to congratulate Gardy on one of the best managerial careers, really in major league baseball history,” Avila said. “His leadership and hard work over the last three seasons has put us in a position to get closer to our goal of bringing back winning baseball to Detroit.”

Gardenhire had to oversee a significant rebuild with the Tigers that included a 114-loss season in 2019.

“He took us through the toughest two years of the transition. This year, this third season, probably as tough as any, just because of the pandemic,” Avila said. “The COVID-19 over your head, all the new changes … the stress level was through the roof.”

Gardenhire’s surprise retirement came as the Indians were getting ready to play their 38th game without their manager, Terry Francona, who has been sidelined after undergoing surgery for a gastrointestinal issue and some blood clotting complications which followed the procedure.

The 61-year-old Francona, who is in his eighth year with Cleveland, still hopes to return before this season ends.

Whoever takes over the Detroit managerial job will be tasked with guiding the team through an important stage in its process. Pitching prospects Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal had a chance to get some experience in the majors this year, and other young players will be crucial over the next couple seasons.

Gardenhire took over for longtime Twins manager Tom Kelly and managed Minnesota from 2002-14, going 1,068-1,039. Minnesota won the division six times in his first nine seasons at the helm, and he was American League Manager of the Year in 2010.

He was a bench coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks before returning to the AL Central with the Tigers for the 2018 season. Detroit was 132-241 under Gardenhire.

Gardenhire played five seasons in the majors, all with the New York Mets, and was a light-hitting infielder in the 1980s.

“Always, you’ll miss baseball,” Gardenhire said. “You miss the game, but you miss the people in it, the coaches, the staff here. Those are the tough things, but I’m only a phone call away. … I won’t just go away totally. This is just a moment, I know I have to take care of myself right now and get myself back to where I need to be.

“I appreciate baseball for everything they’ve given me and my family, and it’s been a good career.”