Nationals center fielder Denard Span extended his career-high hitting streak to 27 games with a base hit in the second inning, but he will prefer to tell you about his grounder that went through the legs of Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons.
The error by Simmons allowed two runs to score as the Nationals secured a 6-5 comeback victory over the first-place Atlanta Braves. And more astounding, the Nationals did it against Braves closer Craig Kimbrel, who arrived with a 1.04 ERA and National League-leading 47 saves.
“I will be honest with you,” Span said. “When they got that extra run in the ninth, I was like, it’s not going to be too good for us. He is the best closer in the game. Once he walked the leadoff hitter, I was like, ‘you know what, we might have a chance’. He didn’t look (like) himself and we were able to get some base runners on.
“I have never seen him walk two guys in an inning like that, the ninth inning. I mean when he has a two run lead, normally that is all he needed. Normally he just needs one run. When he walked two guys, we might have a chance.”
After a Chad Tracy groundout scored a run to make it 5-4 Braves, Jeff Kobernus moved up to third and Anthony Rendon got to second base.
Span said he did not want to sit back during the at-bat. One can’t wait against Kimbrel, especially with two men in scoring position.
“He is still the best closer,” Span said. “I don’t want to get behind in the count against him, just looking for a fastball. I wasn’t sure if they would try to setup the double play and walk me. I thought they would try to win the game with a double play. When they didn’t, I was like ‘let’s go’.”
With the victory in Game 1, the Nationals prevented Atlanta’s celebration of the National League East title on their home field at least for another day. Their magic number remains at four. Span would like to delay that party at least until the Braves leave D.C.
“Of all teams, I don’t want to see (the Braves) jump around on us,” Span said. “We know they are going to the playoffs. But you never want to see, especially the way our series went against them, we don’t want to see them jump around right on us. Let them go after this series and do that.”
Span said the Nationals are desperate right now to win games. They realize that time is running out. With the game one win, they are four games back of the Reds for a playoff spot in the wild card.
“Right now we are fighting for our (playoff) lives,” he said. “We know we can’t lose. It is almost like we got to play flawless this next week and a half for us to comeback against the Braves, they have broken our hearts all year. For us to get a win like that against their closer, and on our home field, it just felt real good.”
Shortstop Ian Desmond said it doesn’t matter when you get on a winning streak, as long as you get on one.
“There’s teams out there that got hot early, there’s teams out there that got hot in the middle of the season,” Desmond said. “We just happened to be getting hot towards the end. We are not complaining.”
Desmond was asked what has changed during the Nationals run of 26 wins in their past 36 games.
“I don’t know if anybody here remembers, when we were asked in the middle of the season how we felt, ‘we said we feel fine, we are going to keep on grinding’,” Desmond explained. “We understand this is baseball and strange things happen in this game. We got to keep on fighting. We are professionals. We are coming to play and preparing ourselves the same way now as we did before and results may be different, but it is the same group of guys, and we never lost our chemistry inside the clubhouse.
“By no means are we to the pot of gold at the end of rainbow yet. But we are playing better. I think that is all that anybody in here wanted to see ourselves do. Finish the season with some pride and kind of put up the year that people thought we were going to.”