- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Denard Span thrust his right arm in the air and pointed his fingers to the sky. He leaped into the arms of onrushing teammates, who poured over the dugout railing.

Jayson Werth ripped Span’s batting helmet off. Ian Desmond snatched the center fielder’s jersey and tugged at it. Their celebration poured into left field, a mess of bodies basking in the moment.

At a time when their fans — when their city — may have most needed it, the Washington Nationals provided a scene of unbridled joy Tuesday afternoon. It followed a scene that was highly improbable, at a time when their playoff hopes may have most needed it.

SEE ALSO: HARRIS: Games won’t solve problems, but they have their place after tragedies

One day after shots rang out inside the Navy Yard, tragedy unfolding just blocks from Nationals Park, they returned to the business of baseball on Tuesday with a heart-pounding 6-5 victory over the Atlanta Braves in the first game of a doubleheader.

All it took was three runs in the ninth inning off Craig Kimbrel, aided by an error from the sure-handed Andrelton Simmons, shortly after Washington’s own bullpen had faltered,.

Holding Navy hats, Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson, right, and others observe a moment of silence before a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves at Nationals Park Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, in Washington. The Nationals wore Navy hats, presented to them by Adm. James A. Winnefield, vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, before the game, to honor those killed and injured in the attack Monday at the nearby Washington Navy Yard. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Holding Navy hats, Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson, right, and others observe ... more >

“The numbers were probably pretty well stacked against us, to be honest,” said Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond. “But they’ve been for a while now. We’re just going out and playing. A win is a win. We’ll take it.”

A long day of baseball began early, and with sincere solemnity.

They stood in a line in front of their dugout, heads bowed for a minute-long moment of silence and the familiar strains of the National Anthem. Held over their hearts were navy blue ballcaps with gold accents. Some had a block ‘N’ on them, others the word ‘NAVY‘ lettered across the front.

The caps were hand-delivered to the Nationals’ clubhouse Tuesday morning by Admiral James A. Winnefeld, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who thanked them for what they’d done in the wake of the unthinkable. Monday’s game was postponed, forcing Tuesday’s doubleheader, and Winnefeld urged them to try to refocus on baseball — for themselves, and all it may mean to the community.

“Beat up those Braves, all right?” the admiral asked manager Davey Johnson.

They tried.

“We’re still feeling it,” said right-hander Dan Haren, who tossed six innings and allowed just one run. “When I woke up, driving to the field, crossing over the bridge, I looked over. It made me think about it. Putting on the blue jersey before the game, with the Navy hats, I think we were all thinking about it all game, really.

“I wanted to do well. I really wanted to do well. I know that there wasn’t too many people at the game. … But I really, really wanted it bad, just to fire up people that are watching. Just to make a few people feel good.”

Haren’s performance was strong, but it was undone by an offense that mustered one hit in innings 2 through 8 and the normally infallible Tyler Clippard serving up a two-run homer that gave the Braves a 4-3 lead in the eighth. Defensive mistakes expanded that defiict to 5-3 in the ninth, as Kimbrel warmed.

And then the improbable happened. Kimbrel walked Adam LaRoche to open the ninth, and Wilson Ramos reached on an infield hit. Anthony Rendon showed bunt. He tried. But as Kimbrel worked with home plate umpire Todd Tichenor’s inconsistent strike zone, Rendon offered at only one pitch in a seven-pitch walk to load the bases.

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