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Harper's heroics not enough as Nats' title hopes end

Outfielder drives in both Washington runs in Game 4 loss to Giants

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Nationals' World Series hopes came to an end Tuesday night as they lost to the Giants, 3-2, in Game 4 of the National League Division Series, eliminating the club from postseason play.

"This is tough," center fielder Denard Span said. "We didn't play well all series. That's the bottom line. The Giants made the least amount of mistakes. We made too many mistakes. The little things added up. They were a better team for these four games."

Washington's bullpen was reliable most of the season, but in the seventh inning, it faltered, allowing the game-deciding run. With the score tied at 2 and one out, Matt Thornton allowed consecutive singles to Joe Panik and Buster Posey. Manager Matt Williams then decided to bring in Aaron Barrett, who walked Hunter Pence to load the bases. With Pablo Sandoval at the plate, Barrett threw a wild pitch, scoring Panik to give the Giants the lead.

"I thought I made some pretty good pitches," Barrett said. "I battled back to 3-2 [in the count]. I guess I tried to do a little too much there and ended up walking [Pence]. I tried to slow myself down as much as possible. It was great atmosphere. I just tried to do a little too much. I didn't want to walk him there, obviously. I tried to challenge him there."

San Francisco nearly scored another run soon thereafter. As he was trying to walk Sandoval intentionally, Barrett threw a wild pitch. Posey tried to score on the play, but was thrown out by Wilson Ramos on a close play at the plate that was confirmed by a crew chief review.

"I got lucky, obviously, with the wild pitch," Barrett said. "The bottom line is I didn't make pitches when I had to, and it ended up costing us the game."

Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez started the game and had one bad inning, and it proved costly. Gonzalez wasn't hit hard, but he had serious problems fielding his position.

In the second inning, after Brandon Crawford singled to left field, Juan Perez hit what appeared to be a routine grounder to Gonzalez, who booted the ball for an error, and both runners were safe.

"I thought that ball was hit harder than it was," Gonzalez said. "It's almost like a changeup coming at you. I saw it all the way to my glove. I just picked it up, just right at the end."

Giants starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong was the next hitter, and he bunted a slow roller down the third-base line that went for an infield single. Gonzalez thought third baseman Anthony Rendon called for the ball, but no one picked it up, and Vogelsong was safe at first.

"That's my fault 100 percent," Gonzalez said. "I should have done a better job getting those outs. Obviously, it's a different ballgame [if I make the plays]."

Gregor Blanco followed and drew a walk to force Crawford home. Panik was the next hitter, and he grounded out to Adam LaRoche, but Perez scored on the play.

Gonzalez pitched four innings, allowed two unearned runs on four hits and struck out one batter.

Vogelsong faced the Nats twice during the regular season and had a tough time against them, allowing nine runs in 11 1/3 innings. But Tuesday was a different story. He was dealing. In fact, he didn't allow a hit in the first four innings.

The first hit came in the fifth inning, when Ian Desmond led off with a single to left. He would later score on a double by Bryce Harper. But the Nationals couldn't string any more hits together that inning, and Harper was left stranded. Ramos popped up to Crawford at short, while Asdrubal Cabrera grounded out to Crawford. After pinch-hitter Nate Schierholtz drew a walk, Span grounded out weakly to first baseman Brandon Belt.

Vogelsong ended up pitching 5 2/3 innings, allowing a run on two hits and striking out four hitters. Vogelsong left the game in the sixth inning after right fielder Pence made a great leaping catch at the wall to rob Jayson Werth of at least a double.

"I don't know when the last time Vogelsong pitched, but that was huge of him to deliver like that," Desmond said. "That was a lot better stuff than we saw from him the last time we faced him. ... That's big-time stuff."

The Nats would tie the score in seventh inning off right-hander Hunter Strickland. With one out, Harper came to the plate and hit a mammoth home run that landed in McCovey Cove. It was the 104th home run that went in the water behind the right-field wall at AT&T Park, but just the third in postseason play.

"He was on some fastballs this series," Posey said.

A ninth-inning rally came up short after Harper drew a two-out walk but Ramos then grounded out to second to end the comeback attempt, and the Nationals' season. For the second time in three years, the Nats had the best record in the NL but then came up short in the NLDS. 

"It was an excellent regular season, as far as the team goes," LaRoche said. "When you get into the postseason and don't win a World Series, I think it is considered a failure. Not from the fans' perspective, but from the players' perspective. [Winning the World Series] was the objective. It was a really quality regular season, because we were here."

After the game, Williams had a team meeting with the players and told them how much he appreciated that effort during the season.

"I told them that I'm proud of their effort," Williams said. "We established a way to go about [playing the] game in Spring Training, and we accomplished that goal. We played the way we wanted to play and did a lot of things right. So, you know, it's tender and it's bitter and all of those things, but I'm proud of them. I'm proud of the way they went about it."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats.
Read More: Washington Nationals, Jerry Blevins, Gio Gonzalez, Bryce Harper, Tanner Roark, Rafael Soriano, Aaron Barrett, Matt Thornton