PITTSBURGH — A season that’s spiraled away from the Pittsburgh Pirates spilled into frustration Sunday.
On the edge of elimination from the playoff race with a 10-7 loss to Washington, the Pirates got into a bench-clearing skirmish after Nationals star Bryce Harper injured his left thumb trying to avoid a fake tag by third baseman Jung Ho Kang.
The Pirates are five games behind in the NL wild-card race with a week left.
When Kang came up for the first time after Harper was hurt in the third inning, he saw a fastball sail behind him from Washington starter A.J. Cole.
That’s when the fracas began.
“I was just calmly sitting there watching some people come out of their dugout like, as if they were in the right, I’m just trying to understand how,” said Pirates left fielder Sean Rodriguez, who was ejected during the fray.
“How could you defend throwing the ball behind someone’s head for whatever reason? I guess that’s what got me going a little bit,” he said.
Cole also was tossed.
“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.”
Harper’s thumb was sore and the reigning NL MVP will have X-rays Monday.
Harper led off the third inning with a triple for the NL East champions. As Harper neared third, Kang acted as if a throw was coming and faked 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.
Jayson Werth, who was in the middle of the ruckus, 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.