You need a little luck to win a World Series and, apparently, you also need a lack of it to drop to last place the following season.
The Giants have played stretches of horrendous baseball this summer but also have caught few breaks a season after nearly everything went right down the stretch. The latest bit of bad fortune came Wednesday night, when Washington Nationals center fielder Denard Span ran down a Hunter Pence liner with two outs in the ninth inning that seemed certain to give the Giants the lead.
Span's diving catch handed the Giants a 6-5 loss at Nationals Park and dropped them 15 games under .500.
Span became the third center fielder this season to make a spectacular play and rob the Giants of a late lead. San Diego's Will Venable made a diving catch to strip Juan Perez of a walk-off hit June 17, and a week later, Los Angeles' Matt Kemp made a sliding over-the-shoulder grab to deprive Marco Scutaro of a go-ahead hit with two outs in the ninth.
"When the ball falls your way, it's falling your way," Pence said. "And when it's not, it's not. If it was Candy Land every year and you won the World Series every year, who would want to watch that? These situations make you stronger."
Asked why he thought of that board game, Pence smiled.
"I don't know where these things come from," he said.
This season has been more like Chutes and Ladders, anyway.
Just when the Giants thought they found some forward momentum, Span sent them tumbling back into the loss column. The Giants trailed 6-1 heading into the late innings but scored three runs in the eighth and another on Brandon Belt's RBI single with two outs in the ninth. Buster Posey followed with a single, and Pence lined a Rafael Soriano slider deep toward the left-center-field gap. Pence put his head down, chugging for second and hoping Posey could score the go-ahead run from first.
Then Pence heard the crowd roar.
"That made me look up," he said. "I was in a little bit of shock. I thought it was in the gap a long way away from him."
Span was sliding on his back, the warning track underneath him and his glove hand raised to show the ball. In the Giants' dugout, hitting coach Hensley Meulens threw his hands up in disgust and players slowly began gathering their equipment.
"I thought it would fall," manager Bruce Bochy said. "They were shading him to right field. It just hung up enough where (Span) could run it down."
The catch wasn't the only bad break that left Bochy searching for answers. Starting pitcher Tim Lincecum gave up five of his six runs in the fourth inning but wasn't hit hard. Two of the five hits during the rally were infield singles.
"That's horrible luck," Bochy said. "He had good stuff. A bloop, a dribbler that went for a hit, a couple of ground balls we don't handle and a wild pitch. It's just one of those innings."