PITTSBURGH — 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.
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.
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.