Despite once holding a five-run lead, the Nationals narrowly closed out a 6-5 victory over the San Francisco Giants (52-67), thanks to an incredible diving catch by center-fielder Denard Span.
Closer Rafael Soriano had already given up three singles and a run in the top of the ninth, and when Hunter Pence’s two-out liner sailed toward deep center field, seemingly out of Span’s reach, Nats fans held their breath.
Their collective exhale came with an explosion of cheers, as Span slid across the grass on his back, triumphantly thrusting his glove and the precariously balanced ball into the air.
The win was the Nationals’ fifth in a row, tying their season-high streak and putting them within one game of an even .500 record.
Though the bullpen pitched an ugly two innings in relief of Jordan Zimmermann, every Nats hitter besides Span either scored or batted in a run, allowing the Nationals to be the team to come out on top.
Zimmermann was not the usual, efficient pitcher who dominated on the mound before the All-Star break, yet he still managed to allow only one run through seven innings of work.
Through four innings, Zimmermann had already thrown 81 pitches, and his chances of making it through six innings seemed slim. However, when his teammates gave him a four-run lead to work with in the bottom of the fourth, Zimmermann answered with three 1-2-3 innings, and managed to make it through seven frames on 112 pitches.
Ian Desmond kicked off the offense in the second inning by continuing to own Giants starter Tim Lincecum, who is a two-time Cy Young winner. Desmond blasted the second home run of his 10-for-15 career against Lincecum about 15 rows back of the Giant’s bullpen to give the Nationals a 1-0 lead. The home run measured in at 448 feet, the longest hit at Nationals Park this season.
The offense really got rolling in the fourth inning, when the Nationals batted around and scored five runs, due partly to clutch hits and partly to lucky breaks.
After giving up back-to-back singles to Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth, Lincecum intentionally walked Adam LaRoche to load the bases with one out. Anthony Rendon promptly deposited a two-run double into center field, and Kurt Suzuki followed with an RBI-single.
After those two hits, the Giants started giving away runs like they were coming out of a box of stray kittens.
Lincecum threw a wild ball four past Span to put him on first and give Rendon time to scamper across home plate. Ryan Zimmerman could have grounded out for the final out of the inning, after Pablo Sandoval made an incredible pick at third base, but first baseman Brandon Belt couldn’t handle his throw. Zimmerman was credited with an RBI infield single, the final run of the frame.
Luckily for Ian Krol and Ryan Mattheus, the five runs the Nationals scored in the fourth inning were enough to keep the game within their grasp. Krol and Mattheus turned the eighth inning into a disaster, with Krol surrendering an upper-deck home run to one of the two batters he faced and Mattheus allowing two runs to score on three consecutive hits.
Tyler Clippard came in to mop up their mess, striking out two batters to end the inning and limit the damage.
Though the score was closer than it should have been, the Nationals walked away with the W, bringing them one step closer to a winning record.