WASHINGTON — Watching his center fielder and leadoff hitter, Denard Span, get up slowly and walk off the field gingerly after making a tumbling catch left Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams feeling uneasy.
“When he starts limping,” Williams said, “of course there’s some tense moments in the dugout, for sure.”
Span left in the third inning the night of Sept. 23 after banging and scraping his right knee while making a terrific grab on the warning track, and Washington went on to close in on home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs by beating the New York Mets 4-2.
Span said Williams told him to plan on sitting out the Sept. 24th game to let the knee heal. Asked whether he’s worried, Span said: “It’s too soon. We’ll see. If a couple of days go by and it doesn’t feel good, then I will be.”
Span noted there was no way he would consider not aggressively going after the liner off the bat of Matt den Dekker that ended the third inning.
“He’s not going to shy away just because it’s this time of the year,” Williams said. “I wasn’t concerned with him hitting the wall. The way he went down was concerning. But they’re going to play. You can’t play any differently. … We can’t change now.”
Span is a key player for the NL East champions. In addition to his strong defense, he has the club’s highest batting average at .300 and most stolen bases with 31.
The fans rose to applaud after his catch, and outfielders Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth offered kudos on the way off the field. Tanner Roark (15-10) waited for Span on the grass between the infield and the dugout to give him a high-five and a pat on the chest.
“He’s always making great plays like that,” said Roark, who allowed two runs in 6 1-3 innings to win his third consecutive start.
As good as Roark has been in his first full season as a major league starter, he appears destined for the bullpen in the postseason, because Washington is expected to go with a four-man rotation of Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister, Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez.
The player who replaced Span, rookie Michael Taylor, doubled home Washington’s first run in the fifth. Taylor scored moments later on Adam LaRoche’s 26th homer.
All of Washington’s runs came off Bartolo Colon (14-13) as the Mets dropped to 76-81; one more loss will ensure their sixth consecutive losing season.
Drew Storen pitched a scoreless ninth, making him 9-for-9 in save chances since taking over the primary closer’s role from struggling Rafael Soriano on Sept. 7. What remained of the announced crowd of 30,714 stood and clapped at the end, one of a series of standing ovations.
Coming off a 9-2 road trip, this was Washington’s first game at Nationals Park since Sept. 10 — and the first chance for the home fans to salute the players since they clinched their second NL East championship in three years last week in Atlanta, Roark’s previous outing.
He was cheered loudly as he headed from the bullpen to the dugout before the game began, and again when he exited with two on in the seventh. When Washington’s players ran out to their positions for the top of the first, the crowd roared during another standing ovation, as the stadium announcer noted the division title.
“We gave them their money’s worth and we won,” Roark said. “Got to keep going.”
(HOWARD FENDRICH, AP Sports Writer)