- The Washington Times - Friday, May 25, 2007

CINCINNATI — There was a time not long ago when Mike Bacsik wondered whether he would get a chance to win another major league game.

“Sure,” the bald-headed, physically uninspiring pitcher said. “Last year, April 1, when Washington told me: ‘You know what? We don’t have any spots for you in Triple-A, and we’re going to release you.’ ”

So when Bacsik completed his journey back last night to beat the Cincinnati Reds 4-3 and earn his first win in three years, it was reason enough for the 29-year-old to smile.

That it came wearing the uniform of the same Nationals team that released him just more than a year ago made the story all the more impressive.

Bacsik had no reason to re-sign with Washington last winter, not after getting dumped by the organization, then going 11-0 for the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Class AAA affiliate in Tucson. He could have signed with anyone.

But Nationals assistant general managers Mike Rizzo and Bob Boone pleaded with him to come back. They admitted their mistake in letting him go, and despite some reservations, Bacsik agreed to come to spring training and again compete for a job.

“They were really persistent,” the left-hander said. “They called and they called, and I thought to myself: ‘I’ve got to give this another chance.’ ”

Bacsik again didn’t make the major league roster, but he did earn a spot in Class AAA Columbus’ rotation, and the way he handled the whole situation convinced Washington manager Manny Acta he deserved a shot to be called up last week.

“Character. Big-time character,” Acta said. “This guy got released by us last year and went and had an 11-0 season in Triple-A and decided to come to camp with us. That shows a lot.”

And now Bacsik has his first big league win since Aug. 4, 2004, (when he pitched for the Texas Rangers) to show for it. In thoroughly befuddling the Reds over 72/3 innings last night, he helped Washington win three out of four from Cincinnati and improve to 10-4 over the last two weeks.

“Guys are just playing outstanding,” Acta said. “We’ve still got a lot of catching up to do. Everybody knows that. But these guys go out and battle for me every day, and I have to be proud of these guys.”

Still, this game before 19,541 at Great American Ball Park featured another harrowing finish.

Leading 4-1 in the eighth with only Billy Traber, Ray King and Chad Cordero available out of his bullpen, Acta let Bacsik retake the mound. The lefty immediately got into trouble, allowing two singles to bring the tying run to the plate.

Then the Reds bailed Bacsik out in astounding fashion. Ryan Freel hit a line drive right at second baseman Felipe Lopez for the first out, and Lopez immediately threw to shortstop Cristian Guzman to try to double up David Ross. The throw sailed wide, and Ross took off for third.

A heads-up play by third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who corralled the ball, and Bacsik, who raced to cover third, resulted in a bizarre 4-5-1 putout and wound up costing Cincinnati.

“It was just instinct,” Bacsik said.

Alex Gonzalez followed the craziness with a home run to left-center. Had Ross still been on base, it would have been a three-run shot, and the game would have been tied. Instead, Ross’ baserunning blunder turned Gonzalez’s shot into a two-run homer and left the Nationals holding a slim 4-3 lead.

They never gave it back, with Traber recording an out in the eighth and Cordero earning his sixth save in the ninth by getting Adam Dunn to hit right into Washington’s infield shift and end the game with a 4-5-3 double play.

Bacsik (1-0) was the star. He has allowed just three runs in 132/3 innings since his May 6 promotion from the minors, and he has done it without a whole lot of natural talent.

“Honestly, through the first few innings, I didn’t really throw the ball that great,” he insisted. “I got away with some pitches.”

Said catcher Brian Schneider: “There’s no doubt he got away with some stuff. But don’t let him kid you, he still threw the ball extremely well.”

Bacsik benefited from some early run support thanks to the performances of two resurgent members of the lineup: Guzman and Dmitri Young.

Guzman homered in the first and singled and scored in the fourth, raising his batting average to .275. Young went 3-for-4 with two RBI, giving him 13 hits in his last 23 at-bats.

“I’m seeing the ball well. That’s all I want to say about that,” a superstitious Young said.

Thanks to all of it, Bacsik could crack a smile last night. He couldn’t help but think back to that day last April when he was out of a job and wondering whether the call would come again.

“Luckily, I got another chance,” he said. “This is a second opportunity, and I’m going to take as much advantage of it as I can.”

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