When Denard Span made his way into the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse Thursday night, after an on-field interview and as he tried to process the first game he had gone hitless in since Aug. 17, he walked up the tunnel from the dugout alone.
What had ended for him Thursday night was a personal feat, a 29-game hitting streak that came one shy of the Nationals record of 30, set by Ryan Zimmerman, and was the longest hitting streak in the major leagues this season. But it was not something he did without support.
When Span turned toward the entrance of the clubhouse, all of his Nationals teammates had gathered to wait for him. They applauded, and hugged him. They showed their appreciation for what he’d done — for how well he’d played and how important it was to their best stretch of play as a team this season.
“I don’t know what my longest hit streak is in my career but if it’s double-digits it’s 10,” said right fielder Jayson Werth. “When he came in we were all waiting for him and we were happy for him. We hated to see it end.When he came over (to our end of the clubhouse) we were kind of talking and the only thing I said was ‘Man, you had your headphones on in the weight room today!’ We were just laughing. He was like, ‘Man it’s so hard to think about what you did yesterday.’
“Once you get to 10 you’re beside yourself trying to figure out how to put your socks on, which shoe to tie first. I can’t even fathom what was going through his head. It’s tough. It was heartbreaking when he broke it but I’m happy for him and man he’s just been a catalyst for this offense down the stretch and he’s been a big reason for our success. As tough as things were the first half for him he’s really settled in and I think he feels more comfortable with the team and in the room and everything. He’s played great.”
Span went 0-for-4 on Thursday night, striking out in what was his final at-bat. As he made his way back to the dugout, the fans in attendance came to their feet and cheered. They acknowledged what Span had done, taking his average from .258 to .281 over the course of the streak — no simple feat this late in a season.
He tipped his cap.
“It’s just unbelievable,” Span said. “I want to say thank you to my teammates; I came in today, after the game, and they greeted me, gave me hugs, and it’s just unbelievable. The fans as well — they’ve been with me along the way, every step, from coming to the game and on Twitter, just giving me all the support.
“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, 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.”
No one said anything to Span when he made his way back to the dugout after his fourth at-bat, he said, there was some uncertainty, of course over whether it would be his last. And the center fielder, who has played consistently superb defense all season and made no excuses when he wasn’t hitting the way he expected through the first few months, admitted to feeling conflicted.
“I was definitely upset (walking back to the dugout),” he said. “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 heard the round of applause, it did make me feel a bit better.
“Once the game was over, I was able to take a deep breath and say, ‘You know what, now I can move on. We got a win, and now, let’s see if we can finish these last few games strong.’”
Teammates gushed with praise for Span, how hard he worked to right what had gone wrong for him early in the year, how impressed they were with how he was able to not only fix it, but fix it in a grand way, and, really, how much of a part of their team he has become.
“What an incredible run he had,” said lefty Gio Gonzalez. “We tip our caps to him. He’s an unbelievable ballplayer. He showed that he can be one of the best on top of the lineup. You pull for a guy like that all the time. He’s just an all-around great player — a leader, a role model, the whole works. He’s Spantastic.”
“He’s just really done a great job,” said shortstop Ian Desmond. “It’s been fun to watch him. I know that early on in the season he probably felt a little bit of extra weight, coming to a new team, leaving a team he’d been with for so long. It’s good to see him playing the way he knows he can play… Obviously you never want to see someone who goes to that extent of a hitting streak have it end, but it was awesome that the fans recognized it. Credit to them because a couple years ago they probably wouldn’t have been paying attention to something like that. That’s no knock on them. They’re really falling in love with this team and we feel it and we appreciate it.”
The end of Span’s streak was also a reminder of just how unbelievable Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game mark is. Many players, Bryce Harper included, noted that it may be an unbreakable mark.
“It’s unbelievable,” Span said. “I was halfway. I got to 28, and I thought I was doing something. Everybody on Twitter, everybody broke me down, saying ‘You’re halfway to DiMaggio,’ and I’m like ‘Oh my God, I don’t know if I can keep this going a whole ‘nother month.’ That’s two straight months of getting a base hit, and that’s unreal.”