- Associated Press - Sunday, April 20, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) - Denard Span’s approach with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning proves math pays off.

Facing a five-man infield, Span hit a sacrifice fly in the ninth and the Washington Nationals, with Bryce Harper back in the lineup and stealing his first base of the season, rallied past the St. Louis Cardinals 3-2 Sunday.

The Nationals loaded the bases against Seth Maness (0-1) when Danny Espinosa singled through third baseman Matt Carpenter’s legs with one out for his third hit, Jose Lobaton singled through the right side of the infield and pinch hitter Nate McLouth walked.

In his second game since being activated from the seven-day disabled list following a concussion, Span lofted a fly to left field. Espinosa easily beat the throw from Jon Jay, who shifted over from right field as St. Louis brought in an extra infielder.

“I counted: one, two, three, four, five,” Span said. “Right there I told myself a groundball probably not going to do it. Try to get the ball in the air somehow.”

After Espinosa crossed home, the Nationals mobbed Span, who suddenly had something else on his mind.

“I was screaming so loud, so into the moment, but at the same time I’m thinking don’t hit me upside the head too hard because I just came off the DL,” said the smiling center fielder, who grounded out with the bases full in the sixth before delivering the game-winner.

The Nationals split the four-game series. They had lost eight of the previous nine meetings with the Cardinals going into the series wrap-up.

“That’s a play I’m expecting to make and a play that I expect myself to make and I didn’t make it,” Carpenter said of his ninth-inning whiff. “It ended up costing us.”

Harper started in left field and went 1 for 4. The two-time All-Star was pulled from the game a day earlier for what manager Matt Williams called a “lack of hustle” after he failed to run out a comebacker to the mound.

The two spoke before Sunday’s game.

“I sat with him for a couple of minutes in his locker and told him I’m confident in him and I’m proud of him and he was going to have impact today, which he did,” Williams said.

Harper had a somewhat different take on the conversation with Williams, as far as length goes.

“He just said, ‘Go get ‘em.’ That’s the three words he said,” Harper said. “It’s good to get back out there and play and be part of a win.”

Harper was left stranded at second base as the possible go-ahead run as Anthony Rendon struck out against Pat Neshek in the eighth.

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