Nationals manager Matt Williams trudged through the crowded corridor beneath AT&T Park on Tuesday night, the expression on his face as rigid as the thinking that had led him here.

Had he been able to divorce himself from doctrine, the Nationals might have at least one more game left to play. He chose convention instead, the final misstep in Washington's latest failed attempt to advance past the National League Division Series.

In the Giants' 3-2 victory in Game 4, the go-ahead run scored in the seventh on a bases-loaded wild pitch by overmatched rookie Aaron Barrett. He had inherited a mess from lefty Matt Thornton, who allowed hits to the first two batters he faced.

It didn't matter that stellar setup man Tyler Clippard was available. Or that closer Drew Storen could be tapped for extra duty. Or that ace Stephen Strasburg and his 98 mph had been available for relief work.

With the Nationals' season on the line, and the score tied in the seventh thanks to Bryce Harper's tape-measure solo shot, Williams handed the reins to Thornton and Barrett "because those are our seventh-inning guys."

"That's how we set this up," said Williams, who let the seventh inning rage out of control because he wouldn't alter his thinking.

For managers and relievers alike, strictly defined roles have become the norm, with certain pitchers designated for certain situations. But October baseball demands the ability to improvise. In this area, Williams looked every bit a rookie manager.

Twice, his decisions contributed to his team's demise.

The first came in Game 2, the now-infamous 18-inning affair that the Nationals let slip away after taking a lead into the ninth. Jordan Zimmermann had cruised through 8 2/3 innings before walking Joe Panik -- ending a streak of 20 in a row retired.

Still, Williams defaulted to his closer Storen. Later, he kicked himself when Storen blew the save.

Three days later, Williams once again was challenged to veer from common thinking. And again, he painted by numbers.

By the end of Game 4, Clippard had warmed in the bullpen but never made an appearance. Neither did Storen nor Strasburg.

Beforehand, Williams said that Strasburg was available out of the bullpen. After the game, he twisted his own words, saying that the righthander was available in an "emergency only."

"It's irrelevant," he said, swatting away a follow-up question. "He didn't pitch."

Soon, Williams was finished with his hollow defense. He stepped down from the dais and made his way to the door. As he exited through the crowd, a distinctive scent drifted in. It came from the nearby Giants clubhouse. It was the unmistakable smell of champagne.

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