The Nationals went out of their way to acquire Denard Span over the winter first and foremost because they believed he would fill a much-needed void atop their lineup.

In that regard Span's first season in Washington has been a disappointment. He hasn't reached base enough for a leadoff hitter and when he has reached he hasn't run the bases as well as hoped.

Which isn't to suggest Span hasn't been valuable to the Nationals in 2013 especially in the field. Teammates and fans alike have marveled all year at the center fielder's ability to track down balls few others would even approach. And Wednesday night everyone in attendance at Nationals Park saw firsthand how one of baseball's best defensive outfielders can literally win a game with his glove.

With one mad dash from his position shaded toward right-center field to a point just shy of the warning track in left-center Span robbed Hunter Pence of a double that would have completed a ninth-inning rally by the Giants against Rafael Soriano. Instead by diving to snag Pence's line drive and holding the ball ever-so-carefully in his glove Span recorded the final out of a wild 6-5 Nationals victory and afforded 30657 fans and a dugout full of anxious teammates the opportunity to breathe a sigh of relief and then offer a roar of approval.

"Whew" manager Davey Johnson said. "Heck of a play."

"Unbelievable" shortstop Ian Desmond added. "He's been amazing all year long. Him being in the American League we never really got to see him that much. But best center fielder I've ever seen."

Span has wowed the Nationals all season with his immense range and ability to read balls off the bat so well he rarely needs to dive to make catches. But this one required some extra effort.

"Off the bat I'm like: 'Oh sh...'" he said admitting he took one step in and had to reverse course. "I just put my head down and when I looked up it seemed like I had gained ground on it. That's when I said I'm gonna have a chance to reach for it."

Span still had to dive back and to his right then hold onto the ball (which nearly squirted out of his glove) for dear life as he crashed to the ground. He raised his right arm in the air ball still in glove and then trotted toward the center of the diamond where teammates couldn't wait to congratulate him for his game-saving play.

"Off the bat it looked like it was a catchable ball" said reliever Tyler Clippard who was watching on TV in the clubhouse. "But when the camera got on the outfield we noticed he was playing right-center. So we were like: 'Oh god.' We were all kinda praying that he got there and he did. He made an unbelievable catch. That was a huge win for us."

Huge because it prevented the Giants from rallying from five runs down over the final two innings to steal a victory. And huge because it locked up the Nationals' fifth straight win matching their longest streak of a trying season and helping reduce the sting of last week's sweep at the hands of the Braves

They still haven't made up much ground in the standings — they trail Atlanta by 14 games in the NL East Cincinnati by 8 1/2 games in the NL Wild Card race — but they're playing better baseball. And perhaps most importantly they're not paying attention to the out-of-town scoreboard.

"I feel like we hit rock bottom and we're like: 'Alright let's just go out there and play and not worry about what's going on and who is winning what games and focus on ourselves'" Clippard said. "Unfortunately we did lose three to the Braves. But it let us take a step back and be like: 'Alright guys let's just play baseball and see what happens.' And that's what we're doing right now and it's a lot more fun that way these last five games."