PHILADELPHIA — Ian Desmond hit his 25th home run of the season Wednesday night, more home runs than he’d hit in his entire major league career combined before this season.
So the question came up post-game if No. 25 meant more to him than 24 or 23 and the rest of them.
“No,” Desmond said, and then he smirked. “I’m just trying to distance myself from the 19-year-old.”
It’s true. Bryce Harper is gaining on Desmond. Harper hit his 20th home run of the season, a first-inning shot that gave the Nationals a 2-0 lead. He became just the second teenager in major league history to hit 20 home runs, joining Tony Conigliaro (24) in that rare air, and he’s the first teenager ever to hit at least 17 home runs and steal 17 bases.
Harper is closing in on joining Desmond in the 20-20 club, a remarkable feat for any player, and he joined Nomar Garciaparra (1997) as the second rookie since 1973 to hit 20 home runs with at least nine triples in a season. He may not win the Rookie of the Year award, but he’s making a late push to sway voters, that’s for sure.
Standing outside the Nationals’ clubhouse Wednesday night was a father and son. They’d retrieved Harper’s 20th home run — right off the fingertips they said — and were waiting to give it back to Harper and the Nationals. On cue, out came Nationals clubhouse manager Mike Wallace with an autographed bat for the father and son in exchange for his milestone ball.
You’d think, then, that hitting 20 home runs meant a lot to Harper.
“I like those 93 runs a lot better,” Harper said of the team-high 93 times he’s crossed home plate this season. “Getting on base for all these guys and letting them get those ribbies and get those Ws. As long as we get those Ws at the end of the night, that’s all that matters to me. And as we get deep into October, that’s huge also.”
Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche are both closing in on 100 RBI for the season and a big part of that is because Harper has been getting on base in front of them.
Harper hasn’t acknowledged too many milestones this season that do mean something to him. He said he doesn’t even have any special plans for any of the balls he’s collected this year, most of the ones from his past residing in a box at home. But scoring 100 runs might be significant.
“Absolutely,” Harper said. “Being on base for all the guys to drive me in, just being key in that respect and getting the momentum going early, doing things on the basepaths, I think that’s huge.”
The Nationals have grown accustomed to watching Harper every night. They expect him to do type of things that he does, but it doesn’t mean they don’t sit back and appreciate what he’s brought to their team since his April 28 call up.
“Nothing really amazes me with him,” Desmond said. “Regardless of all the home runs, the great throws, things like that, he impacts the baseball game every single day, whether it’s on the base paths, everything. Nothing surprises me with him. I think he’s got the brightest future and he’s a good kid. That makes it so much better.”
“He’s just an unbelievable athlete,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. “This is nothing new to him. He’s a special guy and he plays the game right and it’s fun watching him.”