Nationals clinging to slim playoff chances
The longest hitting streak in the major leagues has ended, as Nationals center fielder Denard Span failed to collect a hit Thursday night for the first time since August 16.
Span's streak of 29 consecutive games with at least one hit is the longest such streak at the major league level since Atlanta's Dan Uggla and the Dodgers' Andre Ethier each topped 30 games in 2011. Uggla's streak was the longest that year, at 33 consecutive games.
"What an incredible run [Denard] had. We tip our caps to him," said starter Gio Gonzalez, who moved to 11-7 with tonight's win.
"He’s an unbelievable ball player. He showed that he can be one of the best on top of the lineup."
The gold standard when it comes to hitting streaks is, of course, the major league record 56-game run compiled by legendary New York Yankee Joe DiMaggio over two months in 1941.
"That will probably never be broken. That’s really tough. You gotta tip your cap to Joe DiMaggio because that’s a record that I don’t think will ever be broken," said outfielder Bryce Harper.
"Denard made a good run at it. I tip my cap to him and I think everyone in baseball did."
Though it was in an otherwise losing effort, the Miami Marlins succeeded in limiting Span to an 0-4 night at the plate.
Starter Henderson Alvarez held Span to a fly out and a pair of groundouts, to first base and to shortstop.
With one out in the bottom of the seventh inning and the streak likely on the line, Span stepped into the box against reliever A.J. Ramos.
The right-hander ran the count to 2-1 before Span fouled off a pair of inside fastballs, breaking his bat on the second.
The crowd came alive as he replaced his bat and stepped back in, just barely nicking Ramos' next offering for a foul tip.
Span swung and missed at the next pitch, a 79 mph curveball in the dirt that was blocked by catcher Koyie Hill.
"I'll be honest, I was definitely upset," Span said in the clubhouse afterwards.
"It was a few things -- I haven't not gotten a hit in 29 days, so that felt weird, walking back to the dugout without getting a hit. I felt sad, like I let myself down, let the fans down, they've been rooting for me...but once I hear the round of applause, it did make me feel a bit better."
The 25,945 in attendance did their best to soften the long walk back to the dugout, as the crowd rose to their feet in recognition of Span's achievement.
"[The crowd's reaction] felt good. I've gotten a lot of scrutiny this year, with how I started, and for me to do what I've done, and give the fans an opportunity to see what I bring to the table," Span said. "
It's just been good for them to see that I am a good player, and Mike Rizzo and the Washington Nationals brought me here for a reason. It's just an unbelievable feeling, I'll be honest."
Overall, Span batted .371 during the streak with 46 hits, including five doubles, two triples, and two home runs.
The streak helped boost Span's season batting average by more than 20 points, from .258 the day the streak started to .282 entering tonight's contest -- no mean feat.
"It is tough, it is tough. You know, a lot of the games, I was going 3-4, and only seeing my average go up 3 points," said Span.
"But you know what, I'm still thankful that I was able to do something like this, and I guess kinda, you could say jump-start my season, even all the way in August, September."
Span fell two games short of Vladimir Guerrero's franchise record 31-game hitting streak, but he and his teammates still have work to do, as they remained five games back in the hunt for a wild card spot.
Though the centerfielder was understandably disappointed after the game, he did admit to feeling a measure of relief at no longer needing to keep the streak going.
"A little bit, a little bit, I'll be honest," he said. "I wanted to keep it going, but yeah, I'm not sure I'll sleep tonight."
"But it's like I said, it's a sigh of relief, because I can turn the page, try and finish the season strong, and hopefully we can get into the postseason."
Span will likely be at the forefront of any charge towards the playoffs that Washington is able to muster -- and not just because he hits atop the lineup.
"He’s just a all-around great player, a leader, role model, the whole works," said Gonzalez.