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Desmond in elite company

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Desmond in elite company

In this age of deflated power numbers and de-emphasized baserunning, it's no small feat when a major leaguer pulls off a 20-20 combo in a single season: 20 home runs, 20 stolen bases.

So Ian Desmond should feel quite proud of himself this morning as the newest member of the 20-20 club, one that features only seven current members: Desmond, Ryan Braun, Mike Trout, B.J. Upton, Alex Rios, Jimmy Rollins and Carlos Gonzalez.

Desmond is only the second Nationals player ever to pull off the 20-20 combo, the bar having previously been set ridiculously high by Alfonso Soriano, who in 2006 hit 46 homers and stole 41 bases.

This from a guy who entered the season with perhaps as much pressure on him as anybody on the Nationals roster, a guy who had never hit more than 10 homers or posted a batting average greater than .269 in a full big-league season.

"I think he's just had a phenomenal year," manager Davey Johnson said after yesterday's game. "He's just establishing a benchmark for himself and what he's capable of doing."

As impressive as Desmond's 20-20 combo is, let's take this a step further and point out the incredibly rare feat he might just pull off: finishing with a .300 batting average while homering 20 times and stealing 20 bases.

Desmond's average stood at .301 entering yesterday's game, but an 0-for-3 performance against the Brewers dropped that mark to .299. With nine games left in the regular season, he still has a golden opportunity to raise that number back over .300.

And if he does, Desmond will join what might be one of the most exclusive clubs in baseball history: shortstops who have hit .300 with 20 homers and 20 steals.

How many have ever done it? Only six, and their names read like a list of the greatest shortstops of the modern era: Hanley Ramirez (four times), Alex Rodriguez (twice), Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra, Barry Larkin and Alan Trammell.

With a strong finish, Ian Desmond could stand alongside those greats.

Not that he would make a big deal out of it. Desmond is loathe to discuss his personal achievements, especially when it comes to stats. He downplayed the significance of his first career All-Star selection earlier this summer, insisting he'd much rather play in the World Series.

But the 27-year-old does give credit to those who made his breakthrough season possible, starting with his manager.

"Davey has been real nice to have around for me personally," Desmond said. "He's believed in me. I've kind of put the comparison on it: When Davey came in in spring training and was like: 'Hey, you're going to play every single day and I don't care what you do. You're out there. You're my shortstop no matter what.' That was, to me, like a multi-year contract. That was all I needed, someone's word, to say: 'Hey, you're the guy.' The audition kind of went away and now it became just go out and play your game. You can do whatever you want, and he believes in you."

The way Desmond has played this season, there may never be another manager, coach or scout in baseball that doubts his ability.

CSNwashington.com's Chase Hughes contributed to this report.

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Nationals rally against Rivero, beat Pirates 10-7

Nationals rally against Rivero, beat Pirates 10-7

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The tag was clearly fake. What happened next was all too real for the NL East champion Washington Nationals: Bryce Harper got hurt and needs X-rays.

Harper injured his left thumb making an awkward slide to avoid a pretend tag by Pittsburgh third baseman Jung Ho Kang, and the teams later cleared the benches Sunday in Washington's 10-7 win.

Nationals manager Dusty Baker said Harper was "sore" and would have X-rays on Monday. The reigning NL MVP had surgery to repair a torn ligament in the same thumb in 2014.

Harper led off the third inning with a triple. As he neared third, Kang acted as if a throw was coming and feigned a tag.

Harper went down, was checked by a trainer and stayed in. He scored on Anthony Rendon's double and was replaced in the field in the bottom half by Chris Heisey.

Kang insisted he merely intended to keep Harper from scoring when right fielder Josh Bell's throw was way off line.

"First of all, I meant no harm," Kang said through a translator. "During the relay play, I tried to hold the runner on third base. That's all I tried to do."

The next time Kang came up, Nationals starter A.J. Cole threw a fastball behind him and was immediately ejected by plate umpire Jordan Baker as the benches emptied.

Cole said he was trying to pitch inside to Kang. Baker said the entire situation wasn't ideal for a team that is focusing on a playoff run.

"We don't want guys suspended," Baker said. "But you know, boys will be boys, and you've still got to defend your teammates."

Washington's Jayson Werth was in the middle of the skirmish. Pirates outfielder Sean Rodriguez was ejected.

"I was very surprised I was the only one ejected considering," Rodriguez said. "I got blamed for being the one that instigated, but you can watch the film yourself."

Werth had a pinch-hit, two-run homer and Heisey had a go-ahead single during a five-run burst in the eighth. The Nationals' rally came against former teammate Felipe Rivero (1-5).

Rivero had allowed just four earned runs in his previous 25 innings since being traded from Washington to the Pirates.

Kang hit a two-run homer off Koda Glover to give the Pirates the lead in the seventh.

Shawn Kelley (3-2) wound up with the win. Former Pirates closer Mark Melancon pitched a scoreless ninth for his 43rd save.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Pirates: C Francisco Cervelli did not play after taking a foul ball off his wrist Saturday. ... RHP Neftali Feliz (arm) threw off flat ground but is not yet ready for a return to the mound.

UP NEXT

Nationals: Tanner Roark (15-9 2.70 ERA) had his start pushed back one day after the Nationals clinched the NL East on Saturday night. He'll looking for his career-best 16th win as Washington hosts Arizona for a four-game series.

Pirates: Chad Kuhl (5-3, 3.73 ERA) will start as Pittsburgh begins a four-game series against the NL Central champion Chicago Cubs. Kuhl has allowed seven earned runs in 7 1/3 innings in his two previous starts against Chicago this season.

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Benches clear in confrontation between Nats and Pirates

Benches clear in confrontation between Nats and Pirates

With the division title clinched the night before, it seemed the Nationals were poised for an uneventful series finale against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday afternoon. 

That wasn't to be, as the two clubs engaged in a benches clearing altercation in the bottom of the third inning. The tension started in the top of the frame, when Bryce Harper was injured while sliding to third base on a triple. The Nats took exception to Pirates third baseman Jung-ho Kang faking a tag on Harper, which may have led to the injury. 

So when Nats starter A.J. Cole threw behind Kang in the bottom of the inning, the near-fracas was ignited.

Cole was immediately ejected from the game, benches cleared, and each side exchanged words. The Pirates' Sean Rodriguez was also ejected from the game.