With the Twins' frightening inability to hold a lead over the first two games of their series against the Mariners, yesterday's seventh inning seemed utterly predictable. The Twins had already let a four-run lead slim down to one, and the Mariners were threatening with Raul Ibanez on first and Adrian Beltre batting and representing the go-ahead run. Jesse Crain, who had just come on to face Beltre, worked ahead in the count 1-2 but then left a pitch up that was hammered the opposite way by Beltre. As the screaming liner sailed toward right field, there seemed little doubt that it was headed into the stands and that the Twins bullpen had relinquished yet another lead. But what wasn't predictable was the action of Denard Span.
Span saw the ball approaching, turned around and raced to the wall. Once he got there, he turned back around, found the ball and leaped up with perfect timing, grabbing the liner about a foot above the yellow line that runs across the top of the outfield wall. Span had robbed Beltre of a go-ahead two-run homer, and the Twins' narrow lead was safe. They'd add a few more runs in the eighth inning en route to a comfortable 7-3 victory, but Span's spectacular catch still looms as a series salvager.
Of course, Span was also the reason the Twins had a lead to protect in the first place thanks to his bases-loaded triple in the second inning. In total, he went 3-for-5 on the day with a stolen base and five RBI in what has to be considered the highlight of his major-league career thus far. While credit should be given to Brendan Harris, who doubled twice and scored twice, and to Nick Blackburn, who battled and turned in a Quality Start despite not having his stuff working very well, it seems quite clear that Span was the driving force in this victory. For the season, he's now hitting .315/.399/.469, and he's hardly slowed down the torrid pace he returned to the big leagues with. He's been a godsend in the leadoff spot, getting on base nearly 40 percent of the time in front of the team's best hitters, and his range in right field has been hugely beneficial -- never more so than yesterday.
It's easy to blow the importance of Monday and Tuesday's games out of proportion, especially because of the brutal fashion in which they were lost, but losing two of three in a road series is hardly devastating. Escaping from Seattle with a win was critical for the Twins, and the rookie Span deserves a whole heap of credit for making it happen.