ST. LOUIS — The first time Jayson Werth ever hit 20 home runs and stole 20 bases in the same season, he was so fired up about the accomplishment that when he reached second base on the 20th steal, “I wanted to rip the bag out of the ground,” he said.
Werth is the only other player inside the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse who knows who difficult it is to do what Ian Desmond has done the last two seasons.
On Sunday night, Desmond, who had already hit 20 homers this year, stole his 20th base of the season, giving him back to back 20-homer, 20-stolen base seasons. He hit 25 homers and stole 21 bases in 2012.
The feat, which exemplifies the somewhat rare combination of power and speed, has been accomplished by only seven other major leaguers this season. Desmond, who added his 21st stolen base on the back end of a double steal that put the Nationals’ winning run on third base in the ninth, joined Carlos Gonzalez, Mike Trout, Hunter Pence, Coco Crisp, Will Venable, Carlos Gomez and Andrew McCutchen as 20-20 guys this season.
“It’s pretty cool,” Desmond said Sunday night. “It’s definitely a blessing. I wasn’t always headed down this road in my life and I’m just fortunate. I try to take everyday as a blessing and do the most I can everyday.”
Desmond became just the seventh shortstop in major league history to have two 20-20 seasons.
He did not need to steal that 20th base to convince his manager, who already considers him the best shortstop in the league.
A few days ago, when asked if Werth was the Nationals’ MVP this season, Johnson said “He’s right up there with him.” Asked if “him,” was Desmond, Johnson winked.
“He’s special,” Johnson said Monday. “Twenty-twenty’s great. Just tells you you’ve got power, you’ve got speed. That’s a good combination.”
Desmond again joined Alfonso Soriano as the only players to reach the benchmarks in a Nationals uniform, but Soriano, who went 30-30 twice and 30-40 once, did it in a remarkable 40-40 season in 2006.
“My childhood dream was to be 40-40,” Werth said. “That’s so far-fetched for so many reasons. That just shows you, the guys who’ve done it, how good they were. But there’s not even a lot of guys who do 20-20. The type of athlete you have to be do that is impressive.
“It shows not only Desi’s athleticism but his versatility. You throw in defense and the leadership and all the other stuff and you’ve got a really good player.”
For Werth, who went 20-20 in 2008 and 2009 with the Philadelphia Phillies, the first time he did it was special for him because of not just the group it put him in, but what it symbolized for him as a player. Not unlike Desmond, who first did it in his breakout 2012 season, the 2008 season was the one in which Werth established himself as well.
It was the first year Werth had proved himself to be an everyday player, after many years dealing with injury setbacks.
And how he got that 20th wasn’t bad, either.
The Phillies had already clinched a playoff spot, and on the final day of the 2008 regular season, Charlie Manuel joked with Werth that he wasn’t going to put him in the lineup because “You’ll probably pull your hamstring trying to get your 20th stolen base,” Werth recalled. “It was almost like to spite me.”
In the fourth inning, bench coach Jimy Williams came into the video room and found Werth to tell him he was pinch hitting for Kyle Kendrick. Werth was, to say the least, taken by surprise. Williams told him he’d find someone else, but Werth wasn’t about to let that happen.
“Fired my spikes on, I barely got them laced up as I chased him down the tunnel and put my helmet on,” Werth said. “I was like ‘There’s no way I’m not hitting right here. I’ve got a chance.’”
Catcher Lou Marson reached base with the first hit of his major league career, and then Werth singled up the middle off Odalis Perez.
“Lou Marson goes first-to-third out of nowhere,” Werth said. “I was like ‘No Way!’”
With So Taguchi batting, Werth stole second.
“I stole my 20th base on the last day of the season and I wasn’t supposed to play,” Werth said, recalling the improbability of it all. “That was ‘08 where I finally got a chance to play everyday and I was playing good. All the stuff I went through, the injuries, it was a huge accomplishment for me.
“I’m happy for Desi. I know what it means.”