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Nats win an emotional ballgame

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Nats win an emotional ballgame

The range of emotions inside the Nationals' clubhouse Monday night following a wild, 8-5 victory over the Padres was on display for all to witness.

In one corner stood Bryce Harper, proudly talking about the first home run of his career and the curtain call that followed. Across the room, Sandy Leon gingerly maneuvered around with his right leg in a brace and propped up on a cart, a severe ankle sprain having derailed his big-league debut in less than four innings.

Over in another corner stood Sean Burnett, the surprise hero of the night after entering with the bases loaded in the top of the ninth and inducing a game-ending, 1-2-3 double play off the bat of San Diego's Jesus Guzman. Only a few feet away, Henry Rodriguez's locker sat empty, the right-hander having kept himself out of sight after loading the bases on three walks in that ninth inning and getting unceremoniously yanked by Davey Johnson to a chorus of boos.

How does one club deal with so many mixed emotions in such a short time span? From the deflation of Sunday night's crushing loss in Cincinnati to the elation of Harper's first home run to the devastation of Leon's frightening injury to the resignation of Rodriguez's latest misadventure to the jubilation of Burnett's escape act to the realization the Nationals are back in first place at 22-13.

It's almost too much for the mind to process.

"I know. It's crazy," said reliever Craig Stammen, who wound up earning the win. "We've got a very short memory in this clubhouse, with all the guys that are getting hurt and then the crazy game like we had last night. It was good to get this one under our belts and finish the way we did."

The dramatic and happy conclusion to the night certainly made it a lot easier for (most) everyone inside that clubhouse to smile, none more so than Harper.

In the 15th game of his career, the 19-year-old finally delivered what he built his reputation on: power. Mashing a 2-1 slider from right-hander Tim Stauffer in the bottom of the third, Harper sent the ball sailing on a line to straightaway center field, depositing it well up the grass batter's eye at Nationals Park, perhaps 420 feet way.

Before the announced crowd of 19,434 -- it actually was much smaller due to the ever-present threat of rain -- even realized what happened, Harper was nearly all the way around the bases, sprinting the 360 feet so as not to appear to show up Stauffer.

"I'm going to get my butt around those bases as fast as I can," the rookie outfielder said. "Pete Rose tried to get around every single bag before the ball landed. That's what I want to do."

The crowd continued to roar after Harper returned to the dugout, doling out high-fives to everyone in sight, until it became clear the masses wanted an acknowledgement from the kid. Danny Espinosa, the next batter, stepped out of the box multiple times, trying to delay things and give Harper the opportunity to take his curtain call.

Harper, though, wasn't sure if this was an appropriate move on his part.

"I don't want to show up those guys in the other dugout," he said. "I didn't want to show up that guy at all. I was just waiting until someone said something like: 'Go ahead.'"

That someone was Jayson Werth, the injured right fielder who was in the dugout for the first time since breaking his wrist May 6 and told Harper: "Go get up there, kid."

"It was pretty cool," Harper said. "I was pretty excited about that."

The jubilation over the home run, though, was short-lived, because only minutes later Leon was barreled over by Padres third baseman Chase Headley and got his right leg caught underneath him. Helped off the field by assistant trainer Mike McGowan and bench coach Randy Knorr, the 23-year-old catcher later learned he suffered a high right ankle sprain less than four innings into the first game of his career.

"Such an outstanding young man," Johnson said. "His first big-league game, all pumped up, and have to get hurt in his first game. That's tough."

The Leon injury forced Jesus Flores into the game and perhaps threw starter Ross Detwiler out of whack. The left-hander proceeded to give up four runs between the fourth and fifth innings, letting the Padres take a 5-4 lead.

"It kind of throws you off, because it's something that doesn't always happen," Detwiler said of pairing up with a new catcher in mid-inning. "You just kind of have to adapt, and I didn't."

No worries, though, because Detwiler's teammates rallied to his cause, with Ian Desmond delivering a two-run double in the sixth and Chad Tracy and Xavier Nady each homering in the eighth to put the Nationals up 8-5.

That should've been a comfortable cushion for Rodriguez, but the inexperienced closer continued his recent downward spiral and nearly blew his fourth save in seven tries. After walking two of the first three batters he faced in the ninth, Rodriguez saw Burnett start to warm up in the home bullpen. After walking yet another batter to load the bases and bring the go-ahead run to the plate, he got the unceremonious hook from Johnson, who earlier in the day gave an impassioned endorsement to the struggling right-hander.

"I still have a lot of confidence in him," Johnson said even after pulling Rodriguez (who has issued 12 walks and six wild pitches in 15 23 innings). "I went up to him after the game, I said: 'Henry, you're my man. I've still got a lot of confidence in you.' I mean, that's the first time he's actually been wild."

So in came Burnett, trying to pitch his way out of the worst possible jam. And then managed to escape the jam in the best possible way: on a comebacker that resulted in a 1-2-3, game-ending, double play.

"As the inning starts to unfold, you realize that the phone may ring and it might be you," said Burnett, who was credited with his ninth career save. "You're always prepared, but you're never expecting to go in there. I was just trying not to do too much, just trying to get three outs before they score some runs."

Burnett did just that. And because of it, the Nationals were able to smile at the end of a long, strange, emotional night.

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Ivan Rodriguez becomes first former Nationals player to be voted into Hall of Fame

Ivan Rodriguez becomes first former Nationals player to be voted into Hall of Fame

Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez became the first former Nationals player (2005-present) to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Wednesday. He was inducted in his first year of eligibility, marking the 52nd first-ballot hall of famer in history. 

Rodriguez, who was the first free agent signed by current Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, played the final two seasons of his career with Washington in 2010-11. During his time in D.C. he hit .254 six homers and 68 RBI. Pudge's greatest contribution to the Nationals came from his leadership and work ethic. He guided Stephen Strasburg through his rookie season and also helped develop Wilson Ramos so he could pass the torch to him. 

During his 21-year career, Pudge made 14 all-star teams, won 13 gold gloves, won seven silver slugger awards, led his league in caught-steeling percentage nine times, and was named American League MVP in 1999 with the Texas Rangers. He became a World Series champion in 2003 with the Florida Marlins. Pudge's 13 gold gloves are the most ever by a catcher, and his 2,844 career hits are the most ever by a player who appeared in 50 percent or more of their career games as a catcher.  

In addition to Rodriguez, former Montreal Expos great Tim Raines was inducted to the Hall of Fame. Raines is the franchise leader (Expos/Nationals) in walks (793), runs (947), stolen bases (635) and triples (82). Raines was an all-star seven times and he won a silver slugger in 1986 with the Expos. He is the only player in MLB history with at least 100 triples, 150 homers and 600 RBI in a career, and the only player to steal at least 70 bases in six consecutive seasons. 

Related: Bryce Harper wants Nationals to spend money on players, not team store

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Bryce Harper wants Nationals to invest in Matt Wieters, Greg Holland more than facilities

Bryce Harper wants Nationals to invest in Matt Wieters, Greg Holland more than facilities

Bryce Harper isn't one to keep his opinions to himself. The Nationals slugger is outspoken about what he wants, whether that's to "Make Baseball Fun Again" or to make at least $400 million on his next contract

On Wednesday, he gave his take on how the Nats should be investing their money this summer. Here's Harper responding to a tweet from ESPN's Jim Bowden.

Harper's message: Players over everything else. Sorry, gift shop. 

It's plain to see where the 2015 NL MVP is going with this. Obviously, he wants as much talent around him as possible for a chance to win the World Series. 

Matt Wieters, a four-time All-Star catcher, and Greg Holland, a two-time All-Star closer, could be significant additions to Washington's roster. 

Harper is set to become a free agent in 2018, at which point an organization like the New York Yankees will be prepared to offer him both a massive salary and a massive investment in the players around him.

The slugger probably hopes his current team will try to surround him with winning pieces in an effort to keep him. But if a report about the Nationals' reaction to his contract demands proves accurate, they may have another agenda. 

There's Harper drama around the Nationals? Just a regular Wednesday here in Washington.

MORE NATIONALS: Nationals avoid arbitration with Harper, three others