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Matt Williams’ best-laid plans could put Nationals in ground

Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams said he was just following the "plan" when he took Jordan Zimmermann out of the game Saturday night against San Francisco with two outs and a 1-0 lead in the ninth inning of Game 2 of the National League Division Series.

"That is the plan," Williams told reporters following Washington's historic 18-inning 2-1 loss to the Giants at Nationals Park, going down 0-2 in the best-of-five series. "If [Zimmermann] gets out to the ninth, gets in trouble, we are going to the closer anyway."

You mean they have a plan for when a starting pitcher coming off a no-hitter has shut out the opposing team in a postseason game, allowing just three hits in his last 18 innings, with two outs, still throwing 94 miles per hour, after retiring 20 straight hitters, walks his first batter after getting squeezed by the home plate umpire?

That's a lot of planning. I mean, how many times do you think a manager finds himself in a situation like that?

Like Mike Tyson said, "Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval did the punching, resurrecting Drew Storen's ghost of 2012, as the closer gave up back-to-back hits, allowing Zimmermann's lone mistake — the walk to Joe Panik — to score the tying run.

Nine innings later, the last man standing in the Nationals bullpen, Tanner Roark, gave up the game-winning solo home run to Brandon Belt, and the 30,000 or so Nationals fans still in the ballpark had a story to tell their grandchildren someday.

It's like the story they will tell their grandchildren about Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS, when the hometown team led 6-0, only to lose to the St. Louis Cardinals 9-7, culminating in another blown Drew Storen save.

I doubt years from now too many children in Washington will be named Drew.

So now Washington is down 0-2, with Game 3 Monday in San Francisco against the Giants' best pitcher, Madison Bumgarner, who shut out the Pirates 8-0 in the wild card game. The Nationals have to win three straight to win this series.

What's the plan now?

"We will get a day off tomorrow, and see if we can get a win in Game 3," Williams said after Saturday night's loss. "Then we must win Game 4 and hopefully get it back to here. That is all we can do at this point."

All this planning, and all this pain. "You want to make God laugh? Tell him about your plans," Woody Allen once said.

The Giants were so giddy they were almost laughing in the dugout about Williams' ninth-inning plan. "They could've have brought in Sandy Koufax and we probably would have had a smile on our face," said Tim Hudson, the opposing pitcher who was nearly as good as Zimmermann, holding the Nationals offense to one run in 7 1/3 innings pitched.

Hudson was nearly as good as Zimmermann, but not quite, and he recognized that few pitchers on the planet would have been as good as Zimmermann was Saturday night — thus the Sandy Koufax reference.

Storen wasn't going to be as good as a ninth inning, 100-pitch Zimmermann who was in complete control. Especially facing Posey, who was just 4 for 18 against Zimmermann, compared to Storen, who in his career against Posey walked him twice and gave up a double in four at bats.

Somebody in the Nationals' dugout needed to convince Williams of that — to remind him, like Adam LaRoche said about Zimmermann before the game, that "he is a bulldog out there. No emotion."

A loss like the one this franchise suffered Saturday night can have long-lasting implications.

Williams — who punctuated his night by getting thrown out in the 10th after Asdrubal Cabrera went after plate umpire Vic Carapazza for a called third strike — will now be defined by this loss moving forward, instead of his successful rookie managing season that could result in a National League Manager of the Year honor.

Storen, he's damaged goods, having blown two of the biggest games in the short history of the Nationals. "I made quality pitches and they fell in," he told reporters after the game.

That's not going to fly.

Zimmermann? He is one of the best pitchers in baseball, and will be going into his final season under contract to Washington — a free agent in 2016.

"I would have liked to stay out there, yes," Zimmermann said. "But I'm not going to disagree with anything Skip does."

He may not disagree. But he may not forget, either.

No one in this town will.

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