Denard Span left Sunday's series finale with Chicago in the nation's capital late in the game when his back tightened up on him unexpectedly as he went to take the field following an eighth inning at bat.
Washington's 31-year-old center fielder and leadoff man was penciled into the initial lineup for the first game of two with the Yankees in New York on Tuesday night, after visit to a chiropractor on the Nationals' off day on Monday, but he was a late scratch when the back problem flared up again as he warmed up in Yankee Stadium.
"'It felt stiff, tight, across my whole back,'" Span told reporters, including the Washington Post's James Wagner.
"'And it was still pinching, I felt some pain in my left side of my back," and he didn't feel good enough to go.
Span returned to the lineup for this afternoon's matchup with the Yankees.
Nats' skipper Matt Williams was asked, after the outfielder went 3 for 6 and drove in the eventual winning run in the top of the eleventh, how they determined Span would be able to play on Wednesday.
"He didn't have a back spasm," Williams joked.
"So that's good. We didn't get on the field today, but he was good in the cage and said he was good to go. We need him. He's an important part of our club."
Span was vitally important to the Nationals stopping their own three-game losing streak and the Yankees' seven-game winning streak with a 5-4 win in New York.
Span drove in the first run of the game with a double in the third, his twelfth, and the winning run with an RBI single in the top of the eleventh.
The Nationals led 2-0 after six and a half on the strength of Span's RBI double and a solo home run to right by Danny Espinosa in the fifth, but the Yankees went ahead 4-2 in the seventh before Michael Taylor tied it back up with a two-run home run in the top of the eighth.
"We battled today, we battled back," Williams said.
"Down two and big swing from Michael and it's important for us to play until the last one. Today we did. Today we battled till the last out and Denard bounced a ball back up the middle and was able to beat it out."
The Nats' second-year skipper was impressed with the way Span bounced back.
"It's not an easy transition for him, first day back in a couple, a couple balls over his head, lots of running, but he came out of it fine. We'll see how he is tomorrow, but hopefully he's good to go tomorrow again."
With the score tied at 4-4 after ten, Tyler Moore singled on a 1-2 change from Yankees' lefty Chris Capuano to start the eleventh, moved up on a sac bunt by Jose Lobaton and a groundout by Danny Espinosa, then scored from third when Span hit a slow chopper to second. Span hustled down to first to beat Stephen Drew's across-the-body throw from behind second base as Moore scored.
"That inning is set up for us," Williams explained, "leadoff [single], and then bunting him to second base, we know [Span is] going to get him an at bat with a guy in scoring position. It turned out that we had a runner on third and he was able to beat out an infield hit.
"It's important for us, and really any team," Williams said, "if we get a guy on second base and one out, ball in the dirt, we need to advance on -- you can score runs on hits like that and it doesn't have to be clean. So [Span's] speed helped him today."
"I knew that if I was able to beat that ball out that it would give us an opportunity to win," Span told MASNSports.com's Dan Kolko.
"I knew that we would go up by one, so I just dug deep and tried to get to first base."
"Today, I didn't think that I was going to play when I woke up," Span said, "and got going and still didn't feel that good before the game, but I told myself, 'Let's go out there and see how it feels,' in hopes that it loosens up and as the game went on it did."
In 39 games, after collecting three hits today, Span is 49 for 162, with a .299/.339/.463 line on the year, 12 doubles and five home runs.