Denard Span made a tumbling, spinning, basket catch at the base of a hill – a godforsaken hill, people, smack dab in the outfield – about 420 feet from home plate, on terrain he had tested before. And yet the Nationals’ clubhouse uniformly agreed it was only the second best play a Nationals outfielder made Tuesday night – even if that outfielder admitted the whole thing was dumb luck.
You will see another outfielder make a catch at the base of Tal’s Hill, one of the wonderfully kitschy gimmicks inside Minute Maid Park. You will never see another outfielder pull off the ridiculous play Kevin Frandsen pulled off in the third inning. If baseball had a version of H-O-R-S-E, the Astros would have had ‘H.’
How to describe what Frandsen did? He made a behind-the-back, blind grab of a ball that caromed off a fence, and in one motion, as if he had practiced 1,000 times before, he fired the ball back to the infield.
“That was unbelievable,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said. “That might be the play of the year, especially since he never saw it. That was unreal.”
In the third inning, with Dexter Fowler on first, Jason Castro smashed a ball to left-center, the part of Minute Maid Park that contains an odd wall that juts out into a corner. Playing left, Frandsen drifted back.
“Without any wind, it would be right at the bullpen,” Frandsen said. “That’s where it was. Halfway through the outfield, it just took a sharp left. I looked up and I saw the wall was right there. I started sprinting to make sure.”
But as Frandsen started sprinting back toward the infield, making sure he gave himself space to field the ball bounding back toward him, he stuck his glove behind his back. “Just to make sure,” he said. Incredibly, the ball bounced off the wall and landed right in his glove. Frandsen played it cool, took a step toward the infield and rifled a ball home.
He openly admitted he had no clue how he had done it.
“If I went for that and tried to do that, that would be pretty awesome,” Frandsen said. “There was no effort in making that happen. It just happened.”
Teammates were dumbfounded. LaRoche walked to the mound and asked Gio Gonzalez, “Did you see what Frandsen just did?”
“I was confused,” Span said. “I didn’t know what happened. He had his back turned to the wall, and all of a sudden, he was throwing the ball in.”
On his way into the dugout, Frandsen heard inquiries as to what had happened on the play. “They were just like, how the hell did that happen?” Frandsen said. “I wish I could tell you. Stick your glove out, and maybe things go in there.”
The miraculous “catch” saved a run, because Fowler held at third. But only momentarily. Gonzalez hung a 2-2 change-up to George Springer, and both runs scored.
In the fourth, one inning later, Span’s dalliance with Tal’s Hill helped prevent a rally.
Span had played in all 29 parks except Minute Maid Field, so Tuesday afternoon Span walked to center field with Tony Tarasco, a fungo bat and a bucket of balls. Span practiced fielding balls hit off the infamous hill, the bump that abuts the center field wall 436 feet from home plate. He did not think he needed to work on making catches.
“If they hit it that far,” he said prior to the game, “they can have a double.”
Naturally, Span needed to make a catch, the one play he hadn’t prepared for. Matt Dominguez crushed a drive to dead center, and Span turned and sprinted, no hesitation.
“Off the bat, I knew it was hit hard,” Span said. “I put my head down and ran, and looked up and I thought the ball was way over my head. I kind of overran it.”
As Span reached the warning track, he turned and started to backpedal. When he reached the edge of the hill, he fell backwards.
“Once I passed the track, I knew that the hill was coming pretty soon,” Span said. “I just tried to put myself in a good position to catch the ball and brace myself for the hill.”
He formed a basket with his mitt and chest, and he let the ball fall into it as he landed on his backside. Span rose, chucked the ball back to the infield and grinned.
“The play happens so fast,” Span said. “But in the back of your mind, you know that the hill is there. Once I got to the warning track, I knew it coming soon. The main thing, I was just trying to keep my eye on the ball, no matter whether I backpedaled on the hill or not.”
Somehow, Span made the play. And somehow, it wasn’t even the Nationals’ best of the night.
FROM THE POST
Bryce Harper needs to listen to the game, Boz writes.
The Nats squeezed out one run when they needed it in a 4-3 win over the Astros.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Indianapolis 3, Syracuse 2: Brandon Laird went 2 for 3 with a home run. Michael Gonzalez allowed no runs in 1 1/3 innings on one hit and no walks, striking out none.
Harrisburg was postponed.
Potomac was postponed.
Hagerstown was postponed.