You can kind of understand Joey Votto's frustration. With the Cincinnati Reds trailing 6-2 in the sixth on Saturday, having already lost the first two games of their four game series in D.C., the left-handed hitting slugger sent a 2-2 pitch from Dan Haren all the way out to left, out toward the 377 ft sign on the fence outside the visitor's bullpen. It looked like it might go out and it at least could have driven in a run and gotten the Reds a little closer. Then Denard Span came into the picture. Span raced over from center and made a leaping catch, pulling it down from the top of the left-center wall before firing the ball back in to the infield. Spectacular.
Span wasn't done. One inning later, with the bases loaded and two down, Reds' shortstop Zack Cozart sent a 93 mph 1-1 fastball from Tyler Clippard screaming toward the left-center gap. Span was shaded a few steps to the right of center field, but he was on the ball immediately off the bat, sprinting in the direction it was headed and once he had a bead on it, accelerating to full speed to make a sprinting belt-high catch a few steps before reaching the warning track in front of the #NATITUDE sign on Nationals Park's outfield wall, without ever breaking stride.
"That was a heck of a play today," Davey Johnson told reporters after the Nats' win.
"I didn't think he had a chance to catch that ball," Johnson said, clearly impressed by his still relatively new center fielder's speed and range. "He outran it. When [Cozart] hit it I thought, 'That might score three.' And he outran the ball. It was great."
A dejected Zack Cozart decelerated as he rounded first, gritted his teeth and threw his head back, eyes closed in an exasperated gesture. Like Davey Johnson, he must have thought he got hold of that pitch, only to have Span cover the necessary ground and make the grab.
Span and fellow outfielder Bryce Harper talked to FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal about Span's outfield exploits after the Nationals locked down their third-straight win over the Reds. Harper too was clearly impressed with the player who patrols the outfield to the left of him. "Denard Span, today was his day," Harper said, "He played unbelievable out there today and he saved the game for us."
Asked by Mr. Rosenthal to "rate the degree of difficulty of each of the plays," Span said, "I think the second one was a little bit harder. I had to actually run hard for it and go get it in the gap. The first one, Joey Votto's, I thought it was going to be a home run so I was prepared to rob it, but I still had to go and get that one as well."
In his regular seat behind home plate Nats' GM Mike Rizzo was probably pointing to his head. The trade he made with the Minnesota Twins to acquire Span, an outfielder he called, "a true defensive ballhawk center field-type of guy with great range," who, "sabermetrically and with a scout's eye," is, "... a front line defensive center fielder," has worked out pretty well so far.