Desmond’s drive to left-center completed a comeback from a three-run deficit — making it the Nationals’ biggest come-from-behind victory of the season — and pulled Washington back to .500 after a 3-2 homestand.
Jordan Zimmermann dominated the first game, allowing two hits over seven innings in a 7-0 win that followed a Nationals team meeting and prompted Johnson to proclaim: “This is kind of a fun day.”
The Nationals, near the bottom of the majors in many offensive categories, have come from two runs down to win only twice this season. They pulled off their win the slow way Sunday night, with single runs in the first, third, fifth, sixth and seventh. Adam LaRoche doubled in the seventh off reliever Anthony Swarzak (1-2) ahead of Desmond, who then extended his hitting streak to a career-high 12 games.
Tyler Clippard (5-1) pitched the seventh to get the win, Drew Storen handled the eighth and Rafael Soriano the ninth for his 16th save.
The nightcap was played before a small crowd — it was the makeup from Friday’s rainout — and was mostly a slow and tedious game of attrition between recent Triple-A call-ups. Minnesota’s Samuel Deduno labored through five innings in his fourth start since arriving from Rochester, and Washington’s Nathan Karns lasted only three innings in his third start since getting a promotion from Syracuse.
Both teams wasted plenty of chances — they combined to leave 18 runners on base — and the Twins managed only two runs in the second and two in the third against Karns, who is expected to go back to Syracuse once Stephen Strasburg comes off the disabled list in a few days.
Pedro Florimon hit a two-run homer in the third for Minnesota, but more typical was Eduardo Escobar getting stranded at third after a leadoff triple in the sixth.
Roger Bernadina (two hits, two walks) reached base four times for the Nationals, who had an especially eventful fifth inning at the plate: two walks, one error and a sacrifice fly — and just one run to show for having the bases loaded and none out.
In the first game, Zimmermann (9-3) struck out eight with a season-high 111 pitches while dropping his ERA to 2.00. He’s tied with Boston’s Clay Buchholz, Arizona’s Patrick Corbin and St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright for most wins in the majors.
Zimmermann had Johnson worried before the game when the pitcher showed up for the team meeting wearing a heating pad that the manager thought was a neck brace. The right-hander has had a stiff neck off-and-on for a couple of weeks.
“I’m hoping he wears that neck brace every time he goes out,” Johnson said. “That was a heck of a game.”
Johnson also joked that he might have to hold more team meetings after seeing some rare signs of life from his offense. The Nationals, who hadn’t scored more than three runs for seven straight games, managed to get five across in the fifth.
“I’ll have it every day if we get 14 hits and seven runs, but it wasn’t much of a meeting,” Johnson said. “It was about three minutes or something like that. I was just cheering ‘em up.”
Asked what he got from the meeting, second baseman Anthony Rendon said: “Swing.”
“Just be aggressive,” Rendon said. “That’s basically what he was trying to say. Just go out there and try to hit.”
And that’s what they did. The Nationals scored a pair in the fourth and sent 10 hitters to the plate in the fifth to chase starter Scott Diamond (4-5), using a lineup that had a pair of natural second basemen in the outfield — Jeff Kobernus in center, Steve Lombardozzi in left — and a converted third baseman, Rendon, at second.
Regular center fielder Denard Span missed the first game after fouling a pitch off his right foot in Saturday’s 11-inning loss, but played in the nightcap. Usual left fielder Bryce Harper is on the disabled list with a sore knee and was en route for his Monday appointment with renowned specialist Dr. James Andrews.
The Twins helped out the Nationals’ cause in the first game with some flubs in the field. First baseman Justin Morneau allowed an extra run to score when he failed to come off the bag to field a late, off-target throw from Florimon, and Washington’s five-run barrage in the fifth was possible because of a grounder misplayed by second baseman Brian Dozier.
“I think Morny knows he’s got to come off the bag and keep that one there, and we talked about that afterwards,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He didn’t know if he had a chance to still get the runner, but he’s got to make sure we stop that ball. And the groundball to second, that’s an error and we just missed the ball. I know they gave it a hit, but this is the big leagues, folks. That’s an error. That’s two steps to his right.”
NOTES: The second game included a 12-minute rain delay. ... Minnesota CF Aaron Hicks left the nightcap with a strained left hamstring. ... Twins RHP Ryan Pressley left the first game in the seventh inning with a sore right triceps. “Just said he felt something in the back of his arm and we just got him out of there,” Gardenhire said. “They brought him in here and checked him out. He should be just fine.” ... Rendon committed an error in both games. ... Zimmermann is 11-0 in his last 18 starts at Nationals Park. ... Kobernus made his first major league start and got his first career hit, an infield single in the third. ... The Twins recalled OF Chris Colabello from Triple-A Rochester as their 26th man for the doubleheader, while the Nationals recalled 1B-OF Chris Marrero from Triple-A Syracuse. Both played in the first game.