- The Washington Times - Monday, June 16, 2008

SEATTLE | As the ball went sailing down the right-field line, hooking ever so slightly, Scott Casto only could watch from the stands at Safeco Field and wait like the 38,547 other fans in the ballpark.

Casto’s son, Kory, had just tagged an eighth-inning pitch from right-hander Mark Lowe, one that looked off the bat like a sure home run but was drifting perilously toward the corner.

“I’m watching the ball,” Scott Casto said. “And I’m saying, ‘Stay fair! Stay fair! Stay fair!’”

It did stay fair, though only by the slimmest of margins. It nicked the outside of the right-field foul pole and landed some 15 feet away. The crowd booed mercilessly when first base umpire D.J. Reyburn ruled it a fair ball and thus the three-run homer that sent the Washington Nationals to a 6-2 victory over the Seattle Mariners. But that couldn’t put a damper on the moment for the Casto family, which had just seen 26-year-old Kory hit the first home run of his big league career as a pinch hitter on Father’s Day.

“It was quite a feeling,” Scott Casto said, his eyes welling with tears. “It was something really special. I don’t even know how to explain it. I was really proud.”

On a grander scale, the three-run homer snapped a 2-2 tie and propelled the Nationals to their first three-game sweep of the season. A club that arrived in the Pacific Northwest late Thursday night reeling with the worst record in the National League departed Sunday evening with spirits soaring for the first time in a long time.

On a more personal level, this moment was all about the Castos, a baseball-obsessed family from Portland, Ore., that doesn’t often get to see big league games in person. Kory had played in front of his parents only once before as a major leaguer, last spring when he made his debut with Washington.

This interleague series in Seattle, then, offered a golden opportunity for the entire family to see the outfielder/third baseman live and in person. Casto had at least 20 relatives waiting for him in the tunnel outside the visitors’ clubhouse following Sunday’s game.

His daughter, Kenzie, born Sept. 11, was there to celebrate her first Father’s Day. And so was Scott Casto, the man who coached his son throughout his childhood and beamed with pride the day the Montreal Expos drafted him in 2003 out of the University of Portland.

“I think Father’s Day, that’s a pretty awesome thing,” Kory Casto said. “First one of my career, on Father’s Day, and it’s a go-ahead-for-the-sweep home run? That’s a big deal.”

The game was tied 2-2 when Casto’s moment arrived. A tight pitchers’ duel between Washington’s Tim Redding (one earned run over six innings) and Seattle’s Jarrod Washburn (two earned runs over six-plus innings) had been turned over to the respective bullpens.

Lowe had allowed a leadoff double to Aaron Boone to start the eighth, then made a blunder trying to gun Boone down at third on Felipe Lopez’s sacrifice bunt attempt. With runners then on the corners and nobody out, manager Manny Acta decided to pull the slumping Wily Mo Pena from the on-deck circle and send up Casto, a .259-hitter since he returned from Class AAA Columbus earlier this month.

“We had three lefties sitting on the bench, and Kory was the best contact hitter we had there,” Acta explained. “Man on third, infield in, I think you just had to do it. I felt like he’s not a strikeout guy and was going to get it done for us.”

Did he ever. Casto connected on an 0-1 fastball from Lowe and sent it down the line and toward the foul pole. To the naked eye, it was tough to tell whether the ball landed fair or foul, but Reyburn didn’t hesitate to make the call and was eventually backed up by crew chief Jerry Crawford.

The crowd booed for minutes, but that was the least of Casto’s concerns. All his life, he had imagined what his first big league homer would be like. This wasn’t what he had in mind.

“This was way bigger than I thought my first home run would ever be,” he said. “It’s a great feeling.”

Scott Casto made a beeline for the right-field stands in search of the fan who caught the ball. The man was happy to turn it over in exchange for a couple of fitted Nationals caps, though the father was willing to offer $100 for possession of the souvenir.

“I got his last college home run,” he said. “I wasn’t letting the first pro one go.”

Not this one, not the way it happened and not on this of all Sunday afternoons.

“I’ll tell you what,” Scott Casto said, his voice quivering. “That’s about the neatest thing that a guy could have on Father’s Day right there.”

SEEN AND HEARD AT SAFECO FIELD

SEATTLE - The folks who run the scoreboard at Nationals Park should take a cue from the guys here at Safeco. On the out-of-scoreboard in left field, they don’t just list scores from other major league games. They keep fans updated on everything going on in the world of sports. On Sunday, they provided constant leader board updates from the U.S. Open (a nice touch for those of us who couldn’t watch Tiger take on Torrey Pines). They also gave updates from some less popular events, such as the College World Series (Fresno State vs. Rice) and the European soccer championships (gotta know what happened in that Turkey-Czech Republic showdown).

-Mark Zuckerman

QUOTABLE

“It’s like I’m catching a break.”

- Manny Acta on managing interleague games in AL parks

TUESDAY’S GAME

Nationals LHP John Lannan

Record, ERA: 4-7, 3.43

Twins RHP Livan Hernandez

Record, ERA: 6-4, 5.84

Time: 8:10 p.m. TV: MASN2

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