When Roger Bernadina and Ian Desmond were coming up together through the Nationals' system - heck, even the Montreal Expos' system - their paths to the big leagues seemed circuitous at best, uncharted at worst. By the time last season started, each one had been in the organization for more than five seasons, and Bernadina's 26 games in the majors were all the two players had between them.
Days like Thursday, in short, seemed farfetched.
Days like Thursday start with Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo holding a press conference to introduce No. 1 overall pick Bryce Harper to the media, name-dropping both Bernadina and Desmond as franchise fixtures that Harper would someday join. Days like Thursday continue with Desmond hitting fifth in the lineup, a spot in front of Bernadina, the two players combining for six hits, three runs and five RBI.
They're punctuated with stellar defensive plays from each player, like Bernadina slamming himself into the left-field wall to catch Brendan Ryan's drove in the 11th inning or the one right after that, when Desmond ranged deep into the hole at short and pistol-whipped a throw to first to get Jon Jay. And they end with Desmond driving in the winning run in the 13th inning, after Bernadina saved the Nationals with a homer in the ninth.
Among the many other twists and turns in the Nationals' 11-10, 13-inning victory over the St. Louis Cardinals, the theme that continued to emerge was that Bernadina and Desmond, two players the Nationals took chances on with starting spots this year, are here to stay. Each one is in his first full major-league season, but in a year that will end with the Nationals having to answer plenty of questions about their future, the two homegrown players might be part of the solution.
"Me and Bernie have come up together," Desmond said. "It's always awesome to see him do well. We try and motivate each other. I'm just happy to see him have success."
Desmond, who went 4-for-7 with three RBI in the marathon win, has raised his average to .279. He made a number of impressive plays at short, and ate another ball at shortstop when he saw he had no play, rather than making the kind of ill-advised throw that manager Jim Riggleman said has probably contributed to "about eight" of his 28 errors.
And Bernadina has played all three outfield spots this year, filling in for the injured Josh Willingham in left despite not having started there consistently since rookie ball. He hit his ninth homer and first at Nationals Park, tying the game with a two-run missile in the ninth, and continued to play a sparkling left field.
"He's really come on and is really doing a lot of great things," manager Jim Riggleman said. "But he's really found a comfort out there in left field. He's done fine in right field, and he's played pretty good center field. But left field, he's been a highlight film."
Desmond seems a surer piece of the Nationals' 2011 lineup than Bernadina, simply because the external options at shortstop aren't as tantalizing as what the Nationals might find in the outfield. But the likelihood is that both players, whose lockers are next to each other at Nationals Park, will be right where they are this year, playing every day and continuing to see the Nationals invest in them.
Days like Thursday are a return on that investment.
"We're motivating each other," Bernadina said. "It's always good to play with a guy in the minor leagues and come up with a victory. It's something good."