Young's blast sends Nats to win
Slugger's three-run shot provides club with edge over Astros
WASHINGTON -- When Nationals left-hander Mike Bacsik was approached by the media after Monday night's 4-3 victory over the Astros, he was quick to point out how first baseman Dmitri Young and the bullpen have carried Washington throughout the 2007 season.
Without Young, Washington most likely would have been the worst hitting team in baseball. Young is hitting .339 with nine home runs and 52 RBIs. The Nationals' starters have averaged 5.27 innings per game, and it's the No. 1 reason the bullpen leads the National League in innings pitch.
On Monday, it was Young's home run and the bullpen's toughness that helped the Nationals snap their two-game losing streak. Bacsik doesn't mince words when he said the team would be lost without Young and the relievers.
"Dmitri Young, that was awesome. He comes up to the plate and it seems like every time he has an opportunity to do something positive, he does it, whether it's the home run, walk, a base hit or a sacrifice fly. He carries us," Bacsik said. "Our starting staff is not getting into the seventh or eighth or ninth innings. If we have a lead, they do a good job of holding the lead and getting the win."
The Nationals were down 2-1 when they took the lead in the bottom of the sixth inning off Houston right-hander Woody Williams. With one out, after Ronnie Belliard singled to center field, Ryan Zimmermann did something that hasn't been seen since last year. On a 1-1 pitch, he bunted down the third-base line for a hit.
"Smart, smart move," Young said after the game. "He added another arsenal to his game."
Earlier in the day, Zimmerman said that he stopped bunting because opposing teams were looking for it. Manager Manny Acta, on the other hand, is not a fan of his No. 3 hitter bunting for base hits.
"Right now, the bunt looks good," Acta said. "I'm not a big fan of that, especially when a guy like him has the potential to get an extra-base [hit] and a home run anytime. That's part of his game. He likes doing it. If it works, fine. If not, then I'll let him know."
That gave Young the chance to be the hero, and he came through. Young took a 1-0 curveball and hit the ball over the right-field fence to give Washington a 4-2 lead.
"It was a situation where we needed a hit to get some runs. We needed those runs," Young said. "That's the situation that everybody loves to be in. Not every time do you come through, but it's always good when you come through."
Acta said Young was the right guy to come through with the big hit.
"Those are the type of guys that we want up there with runners in scoring position, obviously -- Belliard, Zimmerman and Young," Acta said. "When those situations come up, they respond because the rest of the lineup is trying to put it together right now."
It goes without saying how much Young means to the Nationals -- not just on the field, but in the clubhouse. But that all could be coming to an end, for Young is on the trade block. The team wants prospects in return.
"I'm not looking that far up the road. I'm looking to face Chris Sampson tomorrow," Young said about the possibility of being traded.
Then it was the bullpen's turn to once again save the game. Saul Rivera didn't give up a run in 1 1/3 innings. Jon Rauch gave up a solo home run to Carlos Lee while closer Chad Cordero saved his 16th game by dominating the Astros with two strikeouts.
"It picks us up every time," Bacsik said about the bullpen.
Bacsik pitched one of his best games of the season. He lasted 5 2/3 innings and gave up two runs -- one earned -- on seven hits. It helped that he threw a lot of first-pitch strikes.
When Bacsik left the game, the Astros had a 2-1 lead. Houston scored both runs in the sixth inning. Carlos Lee had an RBI single and Mark Loretta hit a sacrifice fly to score Lance Berkman.
Before Monday, Bacsik last pitched on July 6 and he gave up six runs in five innings. He thought about that outing for the next 10 days.
"It was a tough All-Star break because you want to end your last start with a positive feeling," Bacsik said. "I was upset. It was great to have off-days, but I wanted to get back on the mound and correct the mistakes. I had to wait until tonight and I got the job done."
So did Young and the bullpen.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.