It shouldn't have come down to a game-saving catch, but it did. Washington's Nationals had a 6-1 lead after seven, but the bullpen let San Francisco back in the game and the visiting Giants almost tied it up and could have possibly taken the lead in the ninth when Hunter Pence, with runners on first and second and two down in what was then a 6-5 game, flew to left-center field for what looked like at least a run-scoring double off of the bat. Rafael Soriano served up an 0-1 slider and Pence took it for a ride, but Denard Span sprinted from the right side of second base over to the track in front of the #NATITUDE wall and dove to make a snowcone catch for the 27th out of the Nationals' 59th win and their fifth straight overall in Nationals Park.
"Heck of a play," Davey Johnson said, referring to his 29-year-old center fielder's rangy effort. "I didn't think he was going to get to it. He kind of put it in another gear and then full-out leap." Ian Desmond told reporters after the game he never doubted Span would make the catch. "I think any ball that goes in center field he's going to catch, every time" the Nats' shortstop said, "when he doesn't catch it, it kind of surprises it more than him catching it."
"He's made it look easy out there," the Nationals' manager added, "He covered a lot of ground. Does great routes. Gets good jumps. Makes it a lot of times look easy."
How did it come to that? After Desmond's 17th HR of 2013 tied the game up at 1-1 after two, the Nationals rallied and batted around in a five-run fourth in which Anthony Rendon hit a two-run double, Kurt Suzuki hit an RBI single, Rendon scored on a wild pitch and Ryan Zimmerman drove in a run, 6-1.
After seven innings of work by Jordan Zimmermann, however, Ian Krol came on and recorded an out before surrendering a massive blast to right by Brandon Belt that made it 6-2. Ryan Mattheus took over there and gave up back-to-back singles and a two-run double by Pablo Sandoval that made it 6-4 before he too was lifted in favor of Tyler Clippard, who recorded the final two outs of the Giants' eighth. Rafael Soriano gave up three singles in the ninth, with Brandon Belt's two-out line drive to center bringing in the fifth run, but Span saved the day after that when Hunter Pence flew out to center to strand two runners and end the game.
"[Zimmermann] pitched great and [we] got some timely hitting," Davey Johnson said, "I've got to get some help in the bullpen, I can't just keep going to Clipp and Sori. We should have been able to put that away."
"We've just got to make better pitches," the Nationals' skipper explained. "I understand Krol, he's still feeling his way a little bit, but that's a pretty good-hitting ballclub over there and you've got to make pitches. I mean, we had some guys, Sori had guys ahead in the count and BOOM base hit. We've just got to make better pitches."
Ryan Mattheus walked the first batter he faced in last night's game, Buster Posey, then gave up a single that drove in a runner Fernando Abad had put on. "I told him to go right after Posey," Johnson said last night, "Go right after him and so he walks him on four pitches or something. That's how much they listen to me." Mattheus gave up three hits and two runs tonight before Johnson turned to Clippard. Johnson said afterwards, he knew he'd end up having to go to his set-up man.
"I had a bad feeling when I brought Mattheus in," he told reporters, "I was thinking -- I told [Steve] McCatty, 'I'm going to have to get Clipp up, I've just got a bad feeling.' Well he said, 'Let's wait a hitter.' And BOOM, BOOM, BOOM. It was almost too late."
Johnson was a little more forgiving about Mattheus' outing tonight. "He was better," the manager said, "except he gave up a couple little cheap hits and didn't come close on Sandoval and you've got to go right after them from the get. You can't let them see a whole lot of pitches and expect to get somebody out. That's what's going to happen and somebody is going to hit the ball hard. You get a first-pitch strike, get way ahead and bury them. We're just not doing it."
While he wasn't happy with the bullpen, the way the rest of his team is performing pleased the Nationals' 70-year-old bench boss. "We're just playing better. Throughout the lineup we're swinging the bats better. Water seeks its level and sooner or later guys -- everybody is going to start getting hits with runners in scoring position. We've got too good of talent. Anthony [Rendon] got the big hit tonight with that bases-loaded double and he's just growing, learning on the job. So, I like where we're at, we've just got a few little things. We've got to get some people out, out of the bullpen."
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