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Banged-up Span legs out a win for battered Nats

Jun 10, 2015, 6:40 PM EST

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NEW YORK — He had already come back from two abdominal surgeries in three months, then a sore knee that kept him out of a couple of games last week. And now Denard Span was trying to play through a bad back that had sidelined him from Tuesday night’s series opener against the Yankees and left him a question mark for Wednesday’s matinee until about 90 minutes before first pitch.

Span did manage to play, battling his way through 11 long innings that included two balls hit over his head in deep center field — tough plays, but plays the Nationals have come to expect him to make — and a lot of running around the bases. And so when he sent a chopper up the middle with two outs in the bottom of the 11th, the go-ahead runner on third base, realizing what the situation now demanded of him, Span could think only one thought.

“Got to get on my horses,” he said. “We need a win.”

So it was that the Nationals pulled out an oh-so-needed 5-4 victory on Wednesday, with Span busting down the line to narrowly beat Stephen Drew’s throw to first, driving in Tyler Moore with the game-winning run.

“It’s awesome,” said fellow outfielder Michael Taylor, whose 2-run homer in the eighth made Span’s heroics in the 11th possible. “The fact that he can play through injuries like that and still produce … he’s a huge part of the team.”

Indeed, while Bryce Harper has been the unquestioned MVP of the season so far for the Nationals — and most likely the entire National League — there may be no other member of the lineup more important to this club’s fortunes than Span. When he’s going well, the Nats go well. And when he’s hurting and not his true self, the club suffers for it.

“We need him in the lineup,” Harper said. “He covers everything in center field, left-center, right-center. He has great at-bats. We need to have that in the lineup. It’s tough to miss a leadoff guy who is a catalyst and is always on base and does so much for us. It’s nice to have him in there.”

Span’s latest ailment first cropped up Sunday against the Cubs, when he suffered back spasms and had to leave the game early. He reported to Yankee Stadium on Tuesday hoping to play, and he initially was in the Nationals’ starting lineup until the back stiffened up on him after he took batting practice in mid-afternoon.

With a quick turnaround to Wednesday afternoon’s series finale, the safe bet appeared to be another day off for Span. But he felt good enough after arriving at the park to convince manager Matt Williams he could play.

“When I hit in the cage, it was still stiff, to be honest,” he said. “But I kind of just told myself: ‘You know? Let’s just go out there and go for it and see how it feels. Hopefully it’ll loosen up once the game starts, and if it doesn’t, if it continues to hurt, then I’ll know something’s really wrong with it.’ And as the game went on, it loosened up and it felt OK.”

Span wound up playing a key role throughout the game. He went 3-for-6 at the plate with an RBI double. He stole second base in the top of the ninth as the Nationals tried to mount a game-winning rally. He couldn’t quite track down a pair of deep drives in center field during the bottom of the seventh; had he somehow caught either ball, the Yankees would not have scored four runs in the inning and turned a 2-0 deficit into a 4-2 lead.

It was Taylor, though, who helped make Span’s final sprint down the first-base line possible, with yet another clutch home run in a big spot late.

The rookie had been inserted into left field in the bottom of the seventh, back when the Nats still held a lead, for defensive purposes. But it was his bat that made the difference in the top of the eighth, when he took a 1-2 pitch from Yankees left-hander Jacob Lindgren the other way, over the right-field fence for a 2-run, game-tying homer.

It was Taylor’s fifth home run of the season, the last four of which have either tied the game or given the Nationals the lead in the fifth inning or beyond.

“I definitely wasn’t thinking [of trying to homer],” he said. “Just trying to put the barrel on the ball. In a situation like that, it’s easy to try to do too much and pop it up or get into a spot that you don’t want to be in. That’s something I’ve been working on, trying to put the barrel on the ball. I’m just trying to stay short and get something to hit.”

The Nationals’ oft-beleaguered bullpen did its job to close this game out, with Casey Janssen, Blake Treinen and Drew Storen collectively facing the minimum over four scoreless innings of relief.

And so the Nats, after a rough stretch that had included nine losses in 11 games prior to Wednesday along with a litany of injuries to key players, finally had reason to smile at the end of the day. They departed New York bound for Milwaukee, battered and exhausted to be sure, but happy for the first time in a while.

“We’ll take every one we can get right now,” Span said. “Banged up … seems like half the team is either on the DL, or something’s nagging them. So we’ll take any victory anywhere, any how we can get it.”

  1. Allnats - Jun 10, 2015 at 6:47 PM

    I thought the Taylor hr was off of Lindgren?

    • NatsLady - Jun 10, 2015 at 7:16 PM

      It was. I didn’t understand leaving Lindgren in to face righties, but OK.

      Harvey just gave up a 2-run dinger to Joe Panik. Giants lead 2-0 in the top of the 1st.

      • natsjackinfl - Jun 10, 2015 at 7:25 PM

        Yup and Granderson with a 390 foot single off the right center field wall. Gave up when he thought it was caught.

      • Steady Eddie - Jun 10, 2015 at 7:26 PM

        Ah, the inconsistency of the first post-TJ year back.

        And some Mets fans claimed Harvey would be immune from that because of his18-month recovery period. Guess not.

      • Steady Eddie - Jun 10, 2015 at 7:35 PM

        Then Duda walks, Cuddyer singles to left, and Aoki throws out Granderson at the plate. Two outs, mets at 2nd and 3rd. Hudson hangs a 2-2, 81-mph splitter like a meatball and .249-hitting Wilmer Flores drives in two to tie with a single.

        Drives me nuts when lousy hitters on other teams knock around Hudson like that.

  2. Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 10, 2015 at 9:09 PM

    “@45PedroMartinez: Harvey is such a valuable piece. The Mets are playing with fire now. No Harvey, no Mets down the stretch”

    7 earned tonight over. 6 innings. Uh oh

    • Eugene in Oregon - Jun 10, 2015 at 9:14 PM

      i happened to be in the car and listening to XM when Matt Harvey gave up the 5 ERs in the 6th (including a solo shot to Justin Maxwell). It was the first time I heard or read anyone associated with the Mets (in this case the radio guys) acknowledge that a pitcher coming back from TJ surgery isn’t going to be as effective in his first season back. They further acknowledged that it was probably wishful thinking throughout NY that Mr. Harvey’s entire season would parallel his sparkling first 6 weeks. Reality bites.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 10, 2015 at 9:18 PM

        Some scout I talked to a week ago thinks the Mets worked him too hard early in the season and there’s something wrong.

        Pedro might be trying to say the same in a roundabout way.

      • Eugene in Oregon - Jun 10, 2015 at 10:03 PM

        And when you talk about players who are unwilling to admit their (athletic) mortality, he strikes me as at the head of the list.

  3. David Proctor - Jun 10, 2015 at 9:14 PM

    Wow, Mets fans booing Harvey off the mound after he gives up 3 homers and 7 runs.

    • Eric - Jun 10, 2015 at 9:18 PM

      Sheesh.

    • adcwonk - Jun 10, 2015 at 10:21 PM

      Mets fans booing Harvey

      Really?! Holy moley!

      Mets worked him too hard early in the season and there’s something wrong.

      Ghost — that makes sense to me in the case of a guy coming back 12 months from surgery (like SS and JZim did).

      But . . .

      this was 18 months, wasn’t it? Did he not have enough to to ramp up slowly during the winter and spring? I see he threw 91 and then 95 pitches his first two games in April (and has been near that level almost every subsequent game this season) but I have no idea what his ramp up in Spring training was, or what he did prior to spring training for this year.

      Or is this really just a matter of typical first-year-post-TJ incredible inconsistency?

      Check out JZ’s numbers when he came back at the end of 2010 (making 7 starts):

      – 1st start, 5 runs in 4 IP
      – 2d start, 6 IP 1 H 9 K 0BB 0R (hist best game of his limited season)
      – 3, 4, 5 — three straight starts getting knocked out after 3 innings;
      – 6, 7 — ending the season with two starts each of 5 and 6 innings where he allowed a single run each time.

      Truly outstanding inconsistency.

      Thoughts?

      • nataddicted - Jun 10, 2015 at 11:37 PM

        Thoughts?

        Thanks for thinking.

        I’d find a slot for Harvey if he came to our team. Yup. Every team that we go against I’d pick two or three of their guys.

      • adcwonk - Jun 10, 2015 at 11:53 PM

        I went on at such length, I want to make sure the question is understood:

        Do we really think that Harvey was rushed back to soon — or is it just a headline grabber/something to say when the real reason is typical first-year-after-TJ inconsistency (such as what JZ had)

      • letswin3 - Jun 11, 2015 at 12:29 AM

        I was watching the MLB channel while the Mets game was still in progress, and Pedro Martinez said that Harvey should have been eased back into the season with 5 inning efforts … he went on to say that the Mets should give him a skipped start here-and-there. He felt that this would be a prescription for keeping Harvey viable into September and beyond. I hope I’ve characterized Pedro’s thoughts accurately here. He clearly didn’t think Harvey should be stretched out to 100 plus pitches this early in the season.

      • adcwonk - Jun 11, 2015 at 8:48 AM

        I hear you (or Pedro). I’m just wondering if he is correct given that he had 18 months (rather than the usual 12) and a full spring training.

        I”m also not so sure skipping starts is a good thing, because you still need to throw on off-days, etc (this is why JZ and SS didn’t skip starts — they both just had their season cut short).

      • letswin3 - Jun 11, 2015 at 1:49 PM

        Pedro mentioned the 18 month rest, and he concluded that that element probably dictated an even slower path to the 6th, 7th or 8th innings.

  4. infideljack - Jun 11, 2015 at 1:31 AM

    Let’s see. Matt Hharvey is no Steven Strasburg.

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