The Washington Times - June 11, 2008, 10:07AM

OK, by now you’re probably aware of the dugout dust-up between Manny Acta and Ellijah Dukes in the ninth inning of last night’s 7-6 win. It wasn’t a pretty sight, and very out of character for Acta (usually the picture of patience and calm temper). It was not, however, seen by everyone, hardly anyone back in D.C. The MASN telecast missed it altogether. Only the Pirates’ TV broadcast had the pictures as it happened. Few people in the press box saw it either. I managed to catch glimpses of the incident as it was happening, though not the entire thing.

Afterward, I tried to talk to as many people as I could who had a better view of it all than I did, but because I had to meet my deadline to get the the story in this morning’s paper it was kind of a rushed job. I pieced together as much information as I could in the time that I had, based on what I saw myself and what I heard from others. Since then, I’ve seen the entire replay of the inning on FSN Pittsburgh.

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With that, combined with what I had already seen and heard last night, here’s the best rundown I can give right now as to what transpired… With two outs in the top of the ninth and the Nats trailing 6-5, Dukes hit a double off the right-center field wall, keeping his team alive. Lastings Milledge was up next and drilled Matt Capps’ first pitch into the left-center field bleachers for the homer that put Washington up 7-6. Dukes crossed the plate first, waited for Milledge, and then the two high-fived. But then they added another little celebratory move, a sort-of choreographed thing that might not have appeared like much but isn’t the kind of thing that’s typically tolerated on a major-league ballfield. I can’t help but think that a similar celebration following a touchdown in the NFL would be flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct.

After that, both players retreated to the dugout, where teammates (and Acta) awaited to give both guys high-fives. It appeared that Acta was pointing toward the outfield as Dukes entered the dugout and the two didn’t greet each other. Moments later, Dukes kind of patted the manager on the backside, prompting Acta to turn around and say something. Dukes moved toward the far end of the dugout. Acta followed him back there and appeared to have some strong words for the young outfielder. Dukes started yelling back, prompting Acta to yell even louder and wave his arms emphatically. A couple of players, including Wily Mo Pena, tried to get between them. Acta returned to his perch on the dugout rail.

As the bottom of the ninth was about to get underway, Dukes took his position in right field but went into a crouch and had a particularly steely glare in his eyes. Milledge came over from center field and said something into Dukes’ ear, perhaps trying to calm him down and make sure his head was still in the game since there were still three outs to go. Once the game ended, the Nationals gathered at the pitchers mound for the usual victory round of high-fives. Every position player who had been in the field gave Acta a high-five as they passed the manager, but Dukes lowered his arm upon reaching Acta and never made contact. Acta smirked and nodded his head. So that’s what happened on the field. Back in the clubhouse following the game, things seemed more tense than they would normally be following a big win like that. Dukes did not appear in the main portion of the clubhouse while reporters were in there. Several players got testy when the incident was brought up; none wanted to talk about it on the record.

I asked Acta later for an explanation, and here was his response: “It was just a little misunderstanding in the dugout that I’m not going to elaborate on. We talked, and everything is fine.” But is everything actually fine? Was this nothing more than “little misunderstanding” or was there more to it that will require follow-up action today? We will hopefully have some answers later in the afternoon. This much I am certain of: Despite the Nationals’ best efforts to try to get Dukes to turn his life and his baseball career around, there are plenty of people in that clubhouse who simply don’t believe it’s going to happen, are fed up with the outfielder’s actions and would wholeheartedly support his removal from the roster.

That said, there are several people in that same clubhouse who have grown to like Dukes very much and believe he’s on the right track. Certainly, no one can argue that he’s a supremely talented ballplayer who has the ability to be a real impact guy on the field (we’ve absolutely seen that over the last two weeks or so). So what happens now? I’ll do my best to pass along info as this continues to play out.

In the meantime, please remember to join us for our weekly Wednesday live chat today at 1 p.m. ET. You can access the chat at http://www.washingtontimes.com/livechat/2008/jun/11/nationals-chat-06-11-08/. Please note that with our new website and chat system, you need to create a login name to participate. It’s free, it’s easy, it’s worth doing. Please don’t send in questions to the old natsmailbag@washingtontimes.com address anymore, though. The new equipment doesn’t allow for those questions to appear in the chat.