There were actually a few factors working against Denard Span as he tried to track down Hunter Pence’s liner in the left-center field gap with two outs in the top of the ninth inning.
First of all, Span was shading Pence towards right-center field, increasing the amount of ground he had to cover in order to prevent the ball from dropping in, tying the game and possibly giving the Giants the lead. On top of that, Span took a false step when the ball was first hit, coming in a bit before realizing the ball was hit deeper than he initially thought.
No matter. Span put his head down for a few steps, sprinted towards the ball and then laid out, making a backhanded grab that put a cap on the Nationals’ dramatic 6-5 win.
“Off the bat, I’m like, ‘Oh sh...’ ” said Span, his voice trailing off and a smile breaking onto his face. “I just put my head down, and when I looked up, it seemed like I had gained ground on it. Then that’s when I said, ‘I’m gonna have a chance to reach for it,’ and once I caught it, I tried to hold on to it.
“I caught it and once my hand hit the ground, it tried to come out. But I wasn’t letting it go.”
Span has made some impressive grabs with the Nats this season, but they usually come with him getting a good read on the ball off the bat, covering lots of ground and then making the catch while on his feet or while going into a graceful slide. The circumstances were a bit different on this one.
“Yeah, but I’ll take it though,” Span said. “Normally I take a better route than that, but I was able to get to it. Normally, I don’t dive either. Normally, you guys see me, I kind of slide feet-first or whatever. I was able to sell out, and like I said, we have an early game tomorrow and I wanted to (go home).
“I didn’t want to hit the next inning either. I saw them warming up (Santiago) Casilla, so I was like, ‘I don’t want to hit off this guy.’ I just tried to end the game for us.”
Some players, especially outfielders, say they’d rather rob a batter of a hit than record a hit themselves. It’s safe to put Span into that category.
“I take pride in my defense,” Span said. “Would I like to be hitting .400? Of course. But I love the feeling of taking a hit from somebody or robbing a home run or robbing an extra-base hit. There’s no better feeling than being able to do that, especially like tonight.”
Span’s offensive production certainly hasn’t been to the level he’d like it to be this season. He’s had long stretches of offensive futility, and his on-base percentage this season is 35 points below his career average in that category. But Span’s defense has remained consistently top-notch regardless of the offensive woes.
“You know what, that’s been the main thing that’s kept me going,” Span said. “I’m gonna be honest with you. My defense. If I didn’t have that, if I was a DH or a pinch-hitter, I’d have killed myself probably two months ago. But whenever I’m struggling at the plate, I try to pick my defense up and try to bring that every day and try to help my team win that way.”
When Span got to the postgame handshake line near the mound, he violently untucked his jersey, shouted, “Let’s go home, baby!” and got a big high-five from closer Rafael Soriano, among others. What type of message did he hear from his teammates?
“Just, ‘Good S-H-bleep-bleep,’ ” Span laughed. “Way to go, basically.
“It’s a good feeling. We’ve been battling all year. I’ve been battling all year and just to be able to come through for my teammates, definitely a good feeling.”