Things got heated Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh when the Pirates’ Jung Ho Kang placed a fake tag that led to Washington Nationals Bryce Harper injuring his thumb.
A year ago, the Washington Nationals were one of the biggest laughingstocks in baseball. After entering the season as World Series favorites, Washington was unable to live up to the hype and missed out on the postseason. To make matters worse, closer Jonathan Papelbon and soon-to-be MVP Bryce Harper had an altercation in the dugout that resulted in Papelbon putting his hand around Harper’s throat.
Oh how things have changed.
With Papelbon released, a new manager at the helm, and the second best record in the National League, the Nationals have reestablished themselves as one of the powerhouses of the Senior Circuit. Not only is the team winning baseball games, but they’re having a lot of fun doing it.
Former manager Matt Williams ran a very tight ship as skipper last season, causing many players to have a tense relationship with him. With the easygoing Dusty Baker now at the helm, the atmosphere in the clubhouse has been much better for this team. The players clearly have each other’s backs, and as evidenced by the “brawl” in Pittsburgh on Sunday, they’re willing to go to great lengths to defend each other.
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After Jung Ho Kang deked Harper with a fake tag on an errant throw, Nats starter A.J. Cole responded with a pitch behind Kang in his next at-bat. The Pirates’ bench did not take too kindly to the throw, and the benches emptied with many shoves and words exchanged between the two teams. Jayson Werth and Pirates left fielder Sean Rodriguez were at the center of it all, but the players were separated before things escalated further. Rodriguez and Cole were both ejected.
Werth, who is perhaps the most vocal clubhouse leader on the team, showed his loyalty to his teammates by sticking up for his right fielder. Last season, with all the uneasiness that filled their clubhouse, things may have gone a little bit differently. The left fielder was the first man on the field once the benches began to empty, and he made it clear who he believed was in the wrong.
The last thing the Nationals need right now are players getting suspended, but no one can blame Werth and the rest of his teammates for sticking up for their guy. This Nats team is one that succeeds as a unit. And that is true just as much off the field as it is on it.