Sarah's Take: Questionable decision forces Game 4

Nationals take advantage of Bumgarner's errant throw in crucial situation

Sarah's Take: Questionable decision forces Game 4

Unlike the Orioles' and Royals' sweeps in the American League Division Series, both National League Division Series will have at least four games. On Monday afternoon, the San Francisco Giants couldn't do anything offensively and made a crucial fielding error to enable the Washington Nationals to prevent elimination and force a Game 4.

Strong pitching has been a constant theme throughout the series, and Monday was no exception. With Giants ace Madison Bumgarner on the mound, San Francisco appeared to have the advantage. However, Washington came out swinging.

Showing no ill effects from losing an 18-inning marathon that the Nationals should have won in regulation on Saturday, they showed why they had the best record in the National League. When the Giants committed an error, the Nationals took advantage of the gift to score three runs in the seventh inning on Monday. Twenty-one-year-old phenom Bryce Harper added a long solo home run in the ninth.

Doug Fister, who came to the Nationals in a December trade from the Detroit Tigers, is accustomed to the pressure of the postseason. He gave his team seven scoreless innings to allow the offense to have time to attack Bumgarner, an 18-game winner.

The Giants mustered only four hits against Fister. When a team can't generate an offensive attack, it appears to be unenthusiastic. It's hard to imagine any team would have difficulty generating excitement. The Giants still appeared to be tired after the emotionally draining 18-inning game. Even though they scored one run in the ninth against Drew Storen, the closer who has had much-publicized troubles in the postseason during his career, the Giants couldn't prolong a rally. Storen has yet to pitch a scoreless inning during the playoffs.

Bumgarner pitched brilliantly during the NL Wild Card Game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Throughout the regular season, every time the Giants needed a superb pitching performance, he always delivered. The 25-year-old left-hander took over for Matt Cain, who had season-ending elbow surgery, as the ace of the starting rotation.

Through the first six innings of the game, Bumgarner baffled the Nationals with all of his pitches and superb control.

During the regular season, not many people pay attention to the defense. Oh yes, all of us enjoy watching web gems, but we usually ignore poor defense. More games are lost with poor defense. During the postseason, everything is magnified. A defensive lapse can cost an important win and maybe the team's victory in the series.

A defensive lapse can be either physical or mental. To start the seventh inning, Ian Desmond singled and Bumgarner issued his only walk of the game to Harper. Walking anyone at any time during the postseason can be considered a gift. Baseball is difficult enough to win without giving the opposition anything.

Desperate to score and take a lead, Nationals manager Matt Williams asked his catcher, Wilson Ramos, to lay down a sacrifice bunt. Normally, asking a team's No. 7 hitter to sacrifice may be considered a questionable call. Giving up an out with a team's poorest hitters coming up next doesn't usually make sense. Desmond was already in scoring position, so an average single would have scored him, enabling Washington to take the lead. Ramos could have used many ways to advance the runners. If the Nationals hadn't taken a lead and won the game, Williams would have been criticized unmercifully for this questionable sacrifice request.

For the first time in the postseason, the Giants looked anxious. An anxious team doesn't win much. Instead of throwing to first base after fielding Ramos' bunt, Bumgarner chose to go to third to get the lead runner. Since Desmond has average speed, this was a risky play. Bumgarner should have gone to first. Knowing that he needed a remarkable throw, he rushed it and it resulted in an overthrow. Both Desmond and Harper scored as the errant throw ended up in left field.

A defensive lapse forced Game 4. Ryan Vogelsong, a valuable member of the 2012 champion Giants, starts for San Francisco. Gio Gonzalez, who won 21 games in '12 and went 10-10 this year, goes for the Nationals.

Sarah D. Morris can be reached at This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.