Young's walk-off hit caps Nats' rally
Three-run ninth inning helps Washington avoid sweep
WASHINGTON -- Emotions ran high for Nationals manager Manny Acta and first baseman Dmitri Young on Wednesday afternoon after Acta received his first victory as a big-league manager and Young helped him get it by driving in the run that gave Washington a 7-6 come-from-behind win over Florida.
The Nationals were down, 6-4, when they scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning off Marlins closer Jorge Julio. Ronnie Belliard led off with double. Robert Fick followed and made it a 6-5 game when he singled to left-center field to score Belliard.
After Fick advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Felipe Lopez, Kory Casto hit a sharp grounder that took a bad hop and went past shortstop Hanley Ramirez for a base hit, and that allowed Fick to score the tying run.
Ryan Zimmerman followed and blooped a single to right field to put runners on first and third. Austin Kearns walked to load the bases. Then Young then hit a ball to deep left field near the foul line. It looked like left fielder Josh Willingham had a bead on it. But he decided to let it drop in hopes the ball would go foul. But the ball dropped in fair territory and allowed Casto to score the game-winner.
"That was a judgment call," Young said. "I was hoping he was going to catch it [and Casto could score], but it wound up landing fair. I got a hit out of it."
Suddenly, the emotions started pouring out. Fick headed toward Young near first base, and they embraced as if they won the World Series. Young then searched for Acta, who was near the third-base line. Young found Acta and gave him a big bear hug. As he was running toward the dugout, Young waved his arms to the fans. It was his way of telling them to cheer louder.
After he went into the locker room, Acta was surprised to see how badly a lot of people -- from the front office to the coaching staff and players -- wanted him to get the first victory. The front office had several bottles of Dom Perignon waiting for him in his office.
"It was great; unbelievable," Acta said. "I didn't know so many people were pulling for me. I didn't know I had so many bottles off Dom Perignon waiting for me after the game. I didn't think we could go all through them. But it was nice.
"Everybody was congratulating me. I was emotional because every one of my coaches felt like a big weight was lifted off their shoulders, and my shoulders. It's kind of fun to see the players go out there and celebrate like we clinched the [National League] East. That tells me about their character and how they are getting along."
The players liked that Acta and his staff didn't panic when the Marlins outscored the Nationals, 18-5, in the first two games of the series. Acta realizes that with a young team, Washington is going to take its lumps.
"They know some bad things are going to happen," Fick said, "but they are not kicking things in the dugout. They are not yelling at guys, they teach. They are helping guys that make mistakes. Nobody is looking over their shoulder, no matter how bad you are doing."
Getting the hug from Young was special for Acta. It showed the skipper that Young is taking advantage of his second chance in baseball.
The Nationals invited Young to Spring Training in February. The call came on the heels of the Tigers releasing him last September because of Young's lack of production and a one-year probation on a misdemeanor domestic-violence charge.
The Nationals adopted a no-tolerance policy toward Young's off-the-field problems. So far, players say Young has been nothing but an excellent teammate. It's safe to say that Young is the leader of the clubhouse.
"I know how good he is doing on and off the field," said Fick, who has known Young since they played against each other when they were in high school in Los Angeles. "Everybody in this clubhouse loves him. Everybody in this clubhouse will lean on him during the season this year because he is a veteran and he has been through it. He is a teacher. He is constantly learning. He doesn't think he knows it all. It doesn't matter if you are a rookie or whatever. He treats you pretty straight."
Young was reluctant to talk about himself and his past Wednesday. Instead, he talked about badly the Nationals needed the win.
"My past is my past. My outlook is the future," Young said. "We needed the game because the Florida Marlins came out swinging, making us look bad, even [during] the first [few innings] of the ballgame today. But [there are] 27 outs. ... We didn't give up."
The game looked bleak for the Nationals early because they were down, 5-0, after three innings. Left-hander Matt Chico made his Major League debut, and he was hit hard. He lasted four-plus innings and gave up six runs on eight hits.
Florida played home-run derby in the second and third innings against Chico. Cody Ross hit a two-run home run in the second, while Miguel Cabrera and Mike Jacobs hit solo shots in the next inning.
In the sixth inning, the Nationals were down, 6-1, when Ryan Church hit a three-run home run off right-hander Anibal Sanchez.
The Nationals got four innings of scoreless relief from their bullpen to set up the comeback victory.
"Our bullpen did an outstanding job, and our hitters finally swung the bat better, so I knew that good things would [come] our way," Acta said.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.