Aug 21, 2014, 9:11 PM EDT
It has become an almost nightly occurrence for the Nationals to find themselves tied late in a game, whether it be the bottom of the ninth or in extra innings. Night after night after night, the Nationals have been put in position to have one pitch decide the outcome of an entire day.
On Thursday the Nats were locked in a scoreless tie with the Arizona Diamondbacks in the bottom of the ninth. Another chance for a walk-off after four in the previous five days. Déjà vu once again.
Denard Span came up second in the inning and as he’s done all year – but especially in recent weeks – he got the Nationals started with a one-out single. Then he stole second, his 27th steal of the season which established a new career-high.
“I really don’t have the correct or the right words to say what the feeling is,” he said. “Other than saying that we just feel confident, that somehow, someway, we’re going to inch [out] a victory.”
The next batter, Anthony Rendon, then put a ball in play to third baseman Jordan Pacheco. It was a tough angle for Pacheco and Rendon could tell off the bat.
“I knew I had a chance. He wasn’t playing in on the grass like they were last night,” he said.
What happened next, though, wasn’t as predictable. Pacheco’s throw to first bounced in front of Mark Trumbo and got past his glove. The ball skipped into the camera well behind first base and went out of play.
Span, who was standing on third waiting for a signal from the umpires, was awarded home plate and another win for the Nationals, their 10th straight. That ties a team record and the longest streak in the majors this season.
It was also their fifth walk-off win in six nights. The last team to accomplish that in such short time was the 1986 Astros who did it in five straight games.
Span was once again the star in a Nationals win, but this was a first for him, at least as far as he can remember.
“That’s what guys like me — speed guys — we dream of, getting stolen bases like that in the ninth inning and helping your team win and getting in scoring position like that,” he said. “That’s way more important than stealing two or three bags in first five innings. That was probably my first meaningful bag in my career right there, where I actually stole and put us in a position to win like that.”
Span has talked recently about his improvement in stealing bases and how he has a goal of 30 this season. At 27 and with five weeks left, that milestone is certainly attainable.
Span gives much of the credit to Nationals’ first base coach Tony Tarasco who helps him both before and during games with scouting reports on opposing pitchers and catchers. Once again, Tarasco played a role in this one.
Here was the gameplan for Diamondbacks reliever Evan Marshall, who was on the mound at the time:
“Tony gave me the rundown on the scouting report, basically, on [Marshall], and told me his times to the plate on a slidestep and his regular leg kick. And then he just told me, he left it in my hands, he told me ‘If you think you can get it, go get it.’ I walked off a little bit in between, as the guy was warming up, and I kind of just had to put on my alter ego and talk myself into it and get in that zone. And I was just ready and I was able to get a good jump.”
An alter ego? Yeah, an alter ego. Span said one of his best friends made it up a while back.
“Denard is the guy that is passive, the guy that is afraid to make a mistake,” Span said. “Then he says ‘Span is the guy that is a playmaker. Span is the smooth guy, the guy that would talk to a girl.’ It’s like the Urkel and the Stefan [from Family Matters]. I just had to walk off and kind of hype myself up for a second. And then I came back to first and was: ‘let’s go.’”
Whoever it is on the basepaths this year, whether it’s ‘Denard’ or ‘Span,’ the guy is making a huge difference for the Nationals. Span is getting very close to 30 stolen bases and he knows it.
“Hey man, take one bag at a time. What do we got, three more? Of course you know how bad I want to get it.”
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