The Washington Nationals entered play on Wednesday with a four-game winning streak and a chance to climb to within one game of the .500 mark. Not exactly the position many of us envisioned for the Nationals back in March, but that's where they are. All they can do now is try to dig themselves out of their 8 1/2 game hole in the Wild Card race — forget the division — by continuing their string of curly W's.
Thanks to center fielder Denard Span, they were able to do just that in dramatic fashion on Wednesday.
Early in their game against the San Francisco Giants, it looked like the dramatics wouldn't be necessary. With Jordan Zimmermann on the hill, throwing well, and a 6-1 lead in the eighth inning, one might even say it looked like smooth sailing ahead. But of course it wouldn't be that easy for manager Davey Johnson. Once he turned it over to his bullpen, tense moments ensued.
In that eighth inning, San Francisco would plate three runs against the combination of Ian Krol and Ryan Mattheus to cut the lead to 6-4. Then with two outs in the ninth, Brandon Belt singled home Andres Torres to make it 6-5 against Rafael Soriano. After Buster Posey kept the line moving with a single of his own, Hunter Pence followed with a flyball to left center field that seemed destined to touch down and roll to the wall. But center fielder Denard Span ended up running it down to make the sliding catch and secure the 6-5 victory.
Needless to say the play created some anxious moments for the fans who were still hanging out at Nats Park, but it sounds as though the most anxious of them all may have been Denard Span.
'I actually took a false step, kind of stepped in a little bit, and then I just broke for the ball and put my head down for two or three steps and was able to, you know, come up for the ball,'' Span said.
Until the ball landed in his mitt, Span had all sorts of doubts as to whether he would be able to make the catch.
''Off the bat, I'm like oh, bleep bleep,'' he said, serving as his own censor. ''I just put my head down and I looked up and it seemed like I had gained ground on it. And that's when I said, you know what, I'm going to be able to have a chance to reach for it. And once I caught it, I just tried to hold on to it.''
Admitted misread aside, Span still covered a lot of ground to make the catch. There should also be a certain amount of emphasis on the fact that he did, in fact, make the catch. Most outfielders aren't that fortunate when they lose a critical step.
But of utmost importance to Washington is the fact they won again, pushing their winning streak to five. There's still a long, entirely uphill climb ahead of them, but a play like Span's is often the one we look back at after an improbable mission has been completed.