Another walk-off winner for the Nationals, this time 1-0 over the Diamondbacks, on a hot shot by third baseman Anthony Rendon off reliever Evan Marshall that turned into a two-base error that plated the winning run.
Arizona third baseman Jordan Pacheco fielded the ball on the grass, but his throw to first got away from Mark Trumbo and went into the camera well adjacent to the Nationals dugout. The two-base error allowed Denard Span to score from second and the celebration was on again.
“He just threw me two fastballs yesterday and he was mixing it up a little bit more tonight,” Rendon said. “I knew it had a chance. He wasn’t playing on the grass like they were last night. I say hit with an error, I don’t know about y’all.”
Span hesitated a bit between second and third waiting for the umpire’s signal that he could trot home.
“I saw it, but I wanted to make sure like he was going to give me two bases,” Span said. “I wasn’t 100 percent sure because I kind of jabbed back when the third baseman fielded it to go back to second. I wanted to make sure that he was going to give me two bases.”
It was the Nationals’ fifth walk-off winner in six games, a feat last accomplished by the 1986 National League West champion Houston Astros. Houston tallied five straight walk-off wins in July of that magical season.
Span had led off the inning against Marshall with a single and stole second base to get in scoring position. The stolen base was No. 27 on the season for Span, a new career high.
“We’ll definitely take it,” Span said of the last at-bat win. “It’d be nice to get up by five or six and coast into a win. But, like I said, we’ll take it any given day of the week.”
Suddenly, the Nationals have won 10 in a row, tying a franchise record set in June 2005.
“It’s indescribable, really,” Span said. “I really don’t have the correct or the right words to say what the feeling is other than saying we just feel confident that somehow, someway we’re going to find a way to inch off a victory.”
The game-winning run was set up by Span’s stolen base when everyone in the stadium knew he was going to try to steal second, especially the opposing pitcher.
First base coach Tony Tarasco gave Marshall’s times to the plate to Span as he stood on first base.
“(Tony) told me, ‘If you think can get it, go get it,’ ” Span said. “I think walked off a little bit as the guy was warming up and kind of had to put on my alter ego and talk myself into it, get into that zone. I was ready. I was able to get a good jump.”
Span has now stolen 137 bases in his career. But he says this particular theft was one he won’t forget too easily because of the game situation and the potential available to win the whole thing right there.
“That’s what guys like me, speed guys, we dream of,” Span said. “Getting stolen bases like that in the ninth inning and helping your team win, and getting in scoring position like that. That’s way more important than stealing a bag or two or three bags in the first five innings. That was probably my first meaningful bag in my career right there where I actually stole and put us in a position to win like that.”
Span has said this year he would like to get to 30 stolen bases. With the Twins, he had seasons of 26, 23, 18, 17 and six steals. He has gained critical experience on the art of taking a base on a steal since he arrived in the big leagues in 2008. He said playing for the Nationals has been a major career breakthrough for him in this specialty.
“I’ve come a long way in my base stealing,” Span said. “I give all the credit to this organization just believing in me. Whenever I make a mistake they are always telling me just keep going, just keep being aggressive. My first time saying this but in 10 years I never had that in Minnesota.
“Just a good feeling, man. Just to know they believe in me. Tony has stayed in my ear, stayed in my back pocket and just gave me every opportunity to be successful in stealing bases.”
Starter Gio Gonzalez compiled seven innings for the first time since July 26. He went seven scoreless innings, allowing four hits. He got to watch the final two frames in the clubhouse.
“Just wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t get a walk-off win,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a perfect way to have a perfect 10. The Nats doing their job. It was just fun just being apart of something that’s going on. We had such great pitching lately and our bullpen has been fantastic. It’s not a Nats win without a walk-off. I just wanted to try to blend in with the rest of the rotation and try not to stick out like a sore thumb.”
Gonzalez was proud that he was able to sustain this time around, mixing his pitches well on calls by catcher Wilson Ramos. Prior to Thursday’s outing, Gonzalez had been able to pitch six innings or more in just two of his previous six starts.
“This outing meant a lot to me, just a step to the right direction,” Gonzalez said. “Trying to think with the mind frame of starting over. Pretending this was just zero zero all the way to the end. (Wade) Miley did a great job and I was just going to match him all the way to the end.
“All in all we can out on top. A W is a W, doesn’t matter how it comes.”
Manager Matt Williams had said during pregame that he wanted to see Gonzalez command his curveball. Gonzalez started going to the pitch more as the game wore on, and he was having success commanding it in the zone.
“I tried to stay on top of the pitch,” Gonzalez said. “I wasn’t dropping my elbow or coming from my back pocket or anything like that. Trying to snap it out in front. Trying to get a good feel for it. I feel bad if I don’t mention Ramos calling a great game and doing a great job behind the dish, keeping it up and down, mixing it in and out. Defense was incredible. Rendon and (Danny) Espinosa making some great plays for me.”
It added up to another win, 10 straight for these Nationals, who have now won 38 of their last 58 games.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Rendon said. “We’re just riding as long as it is. It’s like a little roller coaster. It’s got its ups and downs. Hopefully we can just coast at the end.”