Dec 25, 2013, 6:00 AM EDT
As we count down the final days of 2013, we are counting down the 10 most significant moments of the year for the Nationals. These aren’t necessarily positive (or negative) moments, and some didn’t even take place on the field. All, though, were significant in the big picture and defined the Nationals’ year. We continue today with significant moment No. 7: Denard Span’s late-season, 29-game hitting streak…
Few players mirrored the ebb and flow of the Nationals’ season like Denard Span. For four months, he failed to live up to the lofty expectations set for him on Opening Day. And then he finished with a flourish, going on a tear at the plate over the season’s final six weeks, a run that helped somewhat salvage what still proved to be a disappointing year.
The highlight of Span’s late surge, of course, was his 29-game hitting streak, longest in the majors in two years and only one game shy of Ryan Zimmerman’s Nationals record set in 2009.
The streak began on Aug. 16, with Span sporting a .258 batting average and seemingly tapping soft grounders to the right side of the infield every time he stepped to the plate. Over the next 29 games, he hit a robust .371, raising his season batting average 24 points, no small feat at that late stage of the baseball calendar.
There was some drama along the way, too, particularly on Sept. 18 when Span waited until the bottom of the seventh inning before lining a single to right-center to extend his streak.
The end came the following night, with Span striking out in his final at-bat to cap an 0-for-4 evening against the Marlins. As he retreated to the dugout, the crowd of 25,945 rose and gave him a standing ovation, recognizing both the streak and Span’s perseverance throughout a difficult debut season in D.C.
“I’ve gotten a lot of scrutiny this year, with how I started,” he said that night. “For me to do what I’ve done, and give the fans an opportunity to see what I bring to the table, it’s just been good for them to see that I am a good player, and Mike Rizzo and the Washington Nationals brought me here for a reason. It’s just an unbelievable feeling, I’ll be honest.”
That’s what made Span’s hitting streak significant in the bigger picture. Without it, he likely would have slogged his way through the worst season of his career, and perhaps the Nationals would have entered the winter wondering if they needed to make a change in center field.
Instead, Span proved he could be an elite leadoff man for a prolonged stretch, making key adjustments to his swing and his approach. That late surge allowed the 29-year-old to enter the offseason feeling confident about his performance and allowed the Nationals peace of mind knowing they’re set in center field for at least another year.
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