Denard Span is back!
On Wednesday, Span came off the disabled list.
Revere had to give up center field, a position he had fielded proficiently in Span’s absence, but he’s back at the No. 2 spot in the lineup where he is a much better fit.
He was hitting .315-plus behind Span, and despite his three-hit night on Tuesday, the Atlanta native teetered along the .300 line as the leadoff hitter.
Not only that, but the Twins had trouble finding a No. 2 guy in Span’s absence.
They rotated Jamey Carroll, Alexi Casilla and Darin Mastroianni, among others, in and out of that spot, but nobody stuck.
“We need him at the top,” said manager Ron Gardenhire. “We always know that.”
Span saw action early, catching a routine fly in left-center off of the bat of Alex Gordon in the first inning and tripled in his first at-bat since August 27.
“He swung the bat,” continued the skipper.
“Its hard to do when you haven’t had any swings off of live pitching in a couple weeks and he steps right in there and gets it done.”
His 36th career triple put him at No. 9 all time in Twins history, ahead of Michael Cuddyer and Greg Ganger.
Span grabbed another pair of routine flies in the second—snatching them out of the air so proficiently that it would make Mr. Miyagi jealous.
Beginner’s luck you say? Nah. This guy’s been around for a while.
Keiunta Denard Span made his major league debut in 2008, hitting .294/.387/.432 in 93 games. In 2009, he hit .311/.392/.415 and drew 70 walks and struck out 89 times in 145 games played.
His walk and strikeout numbers decreased in 2010 (60/74) and his batting average dropped to .264 (.679 OPS) despite an increase in games played (153), but he still was the subject of a Joe Posnanski feature on patient hitting.
Then injury struck in 2011.
He only played in 70 games but still hit .264 (.679 OPS).
He retained his spot as the leadoff guy and center fielder, however, and appears to have found his groove again this year.
In his second at-bat, Span singled off of Royals starter Luke Hochevar, increasing his batting average to .290. With one out, Willingham and Justin Morneau walked, loading the bases. Ryan Doumit got a free pass as well—allowing the speedy Span to strut home with a little swagger in his step.
Carroll hit a sac fly to put the Twins up 3-0.
So far Span had been involved in all the scoring that night.
Salvador Perez took Twins starter P.J. Walters deep, putting the ball in the bullpen—right over Span’s head. The catcher had a 16-game hitting streak going.
Span finally looked mortal in the bottom of the fourth, grounding to first to end the inning.
Walters struggled in the fifth, spoiling Span’s efforts.
He walked the No. 8 hitter, Eric Hosmer. Johnny Giavotella singled up the middle and David Lough singled to right to load the bases and the Royals systematically drove in runs.
Alcides Escobar singles to right: RBI.
Gordon singles to right-center: RBI.
And Billy Butler nearly takes him deep to left, but settles for a two-run single.
“Leadoff walk, behind in the count,” said Walters, who claims he was not fatigued or pressing in order to make an impression in the last month of the season.
“It was just bad pitching.”
Anthony Swarzak entered the game with a 5-3 deficit.
I quote Ron Burgandy: "Things really escalated in a hurry." Swarzak in with men on first and third and none out in T5.— John Shipley (@johnDshipley) September 13, 2012
Let’s just say that in a street fight with guns, knives and bats, Walters was Brick with the grenade. Manager Ron Gardenhire probably shouldn’t have asked for the ball when he went to the mound…
Swarzak got the first two hitters he faced, Perez and Mike Moustakas, to fly out, but Lorenzo Cain’s single to right brought another man home.
Swarzak got the next hitter, Hosmer, swinging to end the inning.
It was innings like that that put Span on the trading block at the deadline.
His play was superior all season and he clearly is an important cog in the lineup, but it’s hard to keep a great leadoff man on a poor team—especially when Span’s hometown Washington Nationals needed a leadoff man.
“He did a nice job,” said Gardenhire of Span, “but unfortunately we had a lead and couldn’t hold it.”
Revere grounded out to second and Willingham struck out to begin the bottom of the fifth, but a Morneau walk and Doumit single down the left-field line that beat the shift set up Carroll, who drove them both home with a single down the middle.
The game was within one. Span’s efforts hadn’t been squandered yet.
In the sixth he had an opportunity to regain the lead.
Butera was on second after a walk and sacrifice bunt, but Span struck out.
Revere popped out to short to end the inning.
Span grabbed another routine fly in the eighth.
Willingham almost tied it in the seventh with a homer that landed short of the center field wall…and then things went haywire.
Casey Fien entered the game in the eighth to face Escobar, who hit to left with men on first and second. One of the runners reached on an error by left fielder Doumit.
Doumit couldn’t handle Escobar’s ball, then throws well wide of Butera at home, allowing a runner to score and Escobar to advance to second.
The three errors Doumit committed in the eighth tied an AL record. The last Twins player to do it was shortstop Danny Thompson on Sept. 3, 1973. Ironically it came against Kansas City.
“It’s not an easy play,” Gardenhire said in reference to the first error, which was a drop at the wall in left-center.
“The other one, the base hit, he rushed it and…on top of it you rush your throw too and the ball goes flying.
“A tough inning for him, but he’s actually been playing pretty good out there. You got a catcher by position out there playing other positions. He handled himself pretty good.
Tonight was pretty tough out there, the one inning, but we’ll keep running him out there.
“He gives us everything he has.”
Kyle Waldrop replaced Fien.
Gordon scored another runner on a fielder’s choice RBI when Casilla’s throw went wide of Butera…8-5.
Then Butler singled…9-5.
Then Perez singled…10-5.
Fien hit Moustakas with a pitch before ending the inning on a comebacker double play.
It was death by the single.
Span led off the ninth. He took a ball and a strike and then drove a ball to right. Hosmer, the first baseman, got the ball on a dive, but Span beat him to first.
Revere hit into a fielder’s choice, sending Span back to the dugout crestfallen.
His patience had been tested.
All quotes were obtained first-hand.
Tom Schreier writes a weekly column for TheFanManifesto.com.