MLB.com Columnist

Bill Ladson

Homers not enough to rally Nats in Game 1 loss

Strasburg takes defeat; Harper, Cabrera blasts lead offense vs. SF

Homers not enough to rally Nats in Game 1 loss

WASHINGTON -- A sellout crowd of 44,035 saw the Nationals lose a close game, 3-2, to the Giants in Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Friday at Nationals Park.

The Nationals realize that Game 2 on Saturday (5:30 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1) is a must win. They don't want to go to San Francisco down, 0-2.

"We have to flush this as quickly as we can and come back out here and hopefully get that 'W' and go 1-1 to San Francisco," said outfielder Bryce Harper, who homered and knocked a single Friday. "You don't want to go 0-2. [AT&T Park is] a tough place to play."

Giants right-hander Jake Peavy kept the Nationals off-balance with his two-seam fastball, cutter and changeup. He didn't give up a hit until the fifth inning, when Harper led off with an infield single. But the Nats couldn't do any damage in that inning, as Wilson Ramos hit into a double play and Asdrubal Cabrera grounded out to end the inning.

"Peavy was unbelievable," Harper said. "He has been in this game a long time. I don't know if I should be saying this, but I love his mentality out there and the way he pitches. He screams and yells and does what he does out there. That's a gamer's mentality. I have the utmost respect for Peavy for the way he threw tonight."

Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg made his postseason debut, and he didn't appear to be as overpowering as he was during the last month of the regular season. Strasburg lasted five-plus innings, allowed two runs (one earned) on eight hits and one walk, and struck out two batters.

"He threw well," said Giants second baseman Joe Panik. "He mixed up his pitches. He had some hard outs early on. He kept grinding."

San Francisco was able to get to Strasburg in the third and fourth innings. In the third, the Giants had runners on first and second and two outs. With Panik at the plate, Travis Ishikawa and Peavy advanced a base on a passed ball by Ramos, who thought the ball was coming on the inside part of the plate. The pitch went outside.

"I missed the ball. That's a key play," Ramos said. "You have to keep playing. It happens in baseball. We have to control that."

Panik then singled to center field, scoring Ishikawa. An inning later, Hunter Pence scored on a single by Brandon Belt.

Reliever Craig Stammen was on the mound when San Francisco added to its lead in the top of the seventh inning. Panik tripled to left-center field and later scored on an infield single by Buster Posey.

The Nationals had a golden opportunity against Peavy in the sixth inning. Pinch-hitter Nate Schierholtz led off the inning with a double before Denard Span and Anthony Rendon flied out to center and right, respectively.

After Jayson Werth walked, Peavy was taken out of the game in favor of Javier Lopez, who walked Adam LaRoche to load the bases. Right-hander Hunter Strickland -- with seven innings of big league experience in his career -- then entered the game and struck out Ian Desmond to end the threat. The Nats ended up going 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position.

"They brought in Strickland, a guy I haven't faced. He was trying to get something [over the plate], and I wasn't able to get it done," Desmond said. "I didn't put my best foot forward. We have some games left, and hopefully I'm able to bounce back."

The Nationals made it a close game in the seventh inning, however, by hitting a pair of solo homers off Strickland. Harper led off the inning and hit a mammoth home run that landed in the third deck in right field. Nationals Park was deafening as Harper brought the crowd back to life.

"It's a situation where you want to come up and try to do something, get on base, get some runs on the board, get this crowd back into it," Harper said. "Getting them going was very exciting. I was trying to sprint around as fast as I could and get back in the dugout with the guys, turn the page and get in what we needed to do. I wish some guys would have been on [base]."

Two batters later, Cabrera hit a 1-2 pitch into the right-field bullpen to make it a 3-2 game.

After getting pinch-hitter Ryan Zimmerman to fly out to center field for the second out of the inning, Strickland left the game in favor of left-hander Jeremy Affeldt, who was able to get Span to hit a hard ground ball to second baseman Panik, who made a diving play and threw to first to end the threat.

It was the Nationals' first game since Sunday, while the Giants played the NL Wild Card Game on Wednesday against the Pirates. Did the time off hurt the Nats? Manager Matt Williams didn't think so, citing the simulated game that Washington played in the interim. Williams also gave credit to Peavy for his performance on the mound.

"I think Jake was good," Williams said. "[He was] throwing the ball to both corners, breaking balls in fastball counts, and vice versa. He is a veteran, he knows what he is doing. He made good pitches early.

"Like I said, we had opportunities. One swing of the bat can mean the difference in our game today. It didn't happen. We will see if it can happen tomorrow."

And the Giants are aware they are facing a tough opponent in Jordan Zimmermann on Saturday.

"Those guys are not going to lay down whatsoever," said reliever Sergio Romo. "Their starter [Jordan Zimmermann], he's no joke."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.