WASHINGTON - When the ball took off from Hunter Pence's bat like a rocket, Denard Span had just one thought.
"Oh bleep," the Nationals center fielder said.
But Span, after one false step, took off and chased the ball down, making a spectacular diving catch in the top of the ninth inning to preserve a dramatic 6-5 victory for the Washington Nationals over the San Francisco Giants on Wednesday.
"To be able to come through for my teammates is a good feeling," Span said. "Normally, I take a better route than that, but I was able to get to it. I was able to sell out. I wanted to go home, because we have an early game (Thursday). I tried to end the game for us."
Pence, who figured he had drawn the Giants even with his third hit of the night, could not believe what happened.
"I definitely thought that was a hit," Pence said. "I didn't even see him catch it. I had my head down, running. The crowd noise made me look up. I was in shock."
The Nationals won their fifth game in a row, equaling a season high, to crawl within one game of .500 (59-60) and remain on the fringe of the National League wild-card race.
But it wasn't easy, with the Giants rallying for three runs in the eighth, including Brandon Belt's 14th home run of the season, and another in the ninth. The Giants had runners on first and second against Nationals closer Rafael Soriano before Span's heroics ended the game and sent San Francisco to its eighth loss in 11 contests.
"I didn't think there was really any way (Span) was going to get there," said Belt, who was on second base.
Rookie Anthony Rendon helped spark a five-run fourth inning off Giants starter Tim Lincecum (6-12). After Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth opened the fourth with singles, and Ian Desmond moved them over with a groundout to the right side, Adam LaRoche came up with first base open and perhaps the memory of his big home run Wednesday night still in the Giants' heads.
So San Francisco intentionally walked LaRoche to face Rendon, who has a better average (.264 to .238) but far less power (6 HR to 17 HR) than the Washington first baseman.
"Everyone loves that situation," Rendon said. "It's not really a sign of disrespect; they're just playing the game. But they are taking their chances on you. I wanted to come through and throw it back at them, I guess you could say."
The second baseman laced a Lincecum fastball over the head of center fielder Gregor Blanco to give Washington a 3-1 lead. Kurt Suzuki and Ryan Zimmerman followed with RBI singles, and Lincecum (6-12) uncorked a wild pitch, allowing another run to score.
"Anthony is just growing and learning on the job," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said.
Jordan Zimmermann (14-6) was the beneficiary of the offensive outburst, cruising to victory with a seven-inning, six-hit performance. He allowed one run while walking two and striking out two.
"I don't like it when it gets that close toward the end," Zimmermann said. "I'm glad we got the win."
Starved for clutch hitting, the Giants were able to manufacture a second-inning run of Zimmermann. Pence drew a one-out walk and then stole second. After Pablo Sandoval struck out looking, rookie Roger Kieschnick chopped a single through the middle to give San Francisco a 1-0 advantage.
The Nationals drew even using power, as Desmond crushed his 17th home run of the season deep into the seats in left, over the Giants' bullpen. The 448-foot homer was the longest hit at Nationals Park this season and continued Desmond's mastery of Lincecum, as the Washington shortstop is 10-for-14 in his career against the two-time Cy Young Award winner.
NOTES: Washington C Wilson Ramos missed Wednesday's game after injuring his left hamstring Tuesday, but he said it's not the same injury that's landed him on the disabled list twice this season. "I don't feel hurt like I have to go on the DL, so that's good for me," he said. ... The Giants have not recorded more than three extra-base hits in their last 25 games, as 76 percent of their last 196 hits going into Wednesday were singles. "Somebody is going to have to hit a gapper sometime," manager Bruce Bochy said. ... Nationals manager Davey Johnson wasn't entirely bothered by the dugout tiff between Werth and LHP Gio Gonzalez on Tuesday. "It shows there's still life," he said.