Apr 29, 2015, 11:29 AM EDT
ATLANTA — If your head is still spinning from the hysteria of last night — as a certain beat reporter’s certainly is — here are even more takeaways from the Nationals’ historic, 13-12 victory over the Braves…
Denard Span went 5-for-6 with 11 total bases and nearly hit for the cycle
Dan Uggla got most of the attention last night, and deservedly so, but Span had himself a career night and was integral to the Nats’ comeback. With five hits, including three doubles and a sixth-inning homer, the veteran center fielder was on fire at the plate.
What was the key?
“I’m gonna be honest with you: I just was kind of relaxed, to be honest with you,” he said. “I was like: ‘We’re down by eight. Let me just put together some good at-bats and try to do best I can selfishly, individually.’ And, before you knew it, we just kept battling and kept chipping away.”
Span, who only made his season debut nine days prior after rehabbing from two core muscle surgeries, entered last night’s game hitting a paltry .207 with a .250 on-base percentage and .457 OPS. He exited the game hitting .314 with a .342 on-base percentage and .828 OPS. Funny how quickly that can happen.
Span came up to bat in the top of the ninth needing a triple for the first cycle of his career. And when he lined a ball over left fielder Jonny Gomes’ head, it looked like he might have a shot at it. Except Span pulled up at second base with his third double of the game. Not because he didn’t want to try for the cycle. But because he didn’t even know it was possible.
Span said he didn’t realize it until the bottom of the ninth, as he was standing in center field, processing everything that had transpired in this game. (And for the record, yes, he said he would’ve tried for third had he known it at the time.)
A.J. Cole had an historic night as well, but not the good kind
The stunning comeback got Cole off the hook, and everyone in the Nats clubhouse was happy about that, because it helped soften the blow somewhat of the rookie right-hander’s disastrous debut.
Cole was taken to the woodshed by the Braves, who racked up nine runs and nine hits off the 23-year-old in two innings. Only four of the runs were earned, but the five unearned runs were directly the result of Cole’s error (he dropped a feed from Ryan Zimmerman at first base that would’ve ended the second inning with the Nationals trailing only 4-1).
Cole still seemed in a bit of a daze afterward.
“I was really excited to be up here,” he said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing to be called up here and then get to pitch. And I was just trying to stay comfortable and not be too excited and jittery out there. So I just tried staying calm and doing what I always do.”
Cole, of course, doesn’t always do this. His biggest problem: He was up in the zone with everything, and the Braves hit everything hard.
“First time in the big leagues, and it doesn’t go your way … it’s not fun,” manager Matt Williams said.” But it lets him know that he’s got to throw the ball where he wants to. He’s got to change speeds, he’s got to throw strikes, he’s got to throw the ball down in the strike zone. … So that’s what he’ll take. It’s not the debut he wanted, by any stretch, but it’s a good learning experience, too.”
Cole became only the 14th pitcher in MLB history to give up at least nine runs in his debut start. (Sadly, I covered one of the previous 13: The Orioles’ John Stephens at Tampa Bay on July 30, 2002.) He does, however, appear to be the first ever to emerge without a loss. (Willard Hunter of the 1962 Dodgers did get a no-decision after allowing 10 runs in his MLB debut, though his came out of the bullpen.)
Though the Nationals didn’t announce anything last night, Cole is headed back to Syracuse after making this spot start. He’ll now hope to take some positives out of this experience and not let it stunt his development.
“I’m going to look at it for a little bit,” Cole said. “I’m not going to dwell on it or hold onto it. The game’s over. It’s in the past now. So I’m not going to keep looking at it.”
More roster moves coming
Look for the Nationals to make two roster moves before tonight’s series finale. Obviously, with Cole going back to Syracuse, they’ll add another reliever to the staff. They’ll also likely need to add another position player after Reed Johnson suffered what appeared to be a significant injury to his lower leg/foot after doubling in the seventh inning.
Williams described Johnson’s injury as a “tear,” and acknowledged the veteran outfielder could be out for awhile. So if Johnson goes on the disabled list, the Nationals would need to call up another position player, probably Matt den Dekker but possibly Michael Taylor (who would be eligible to return in fewer than the mandatory 10-day waiting period after being demoted because he’d be replacing an injured player).
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
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As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
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