- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 5, 2007

Manny Acta gives his team a motivational quote before every game. During the postgame celebration of yesterday’s come-from-behind 7-6 victory over the Florida Marlins at RFK Stadium, the following words of wisdom remained on the greaseboard in the Nationals’ clubhouse:

“If you want dry cleaning done on this road trip, bring in tomorrow.”

It’s amazing what the promise of clean clothes can do for a team.

The Nationals might have needed drycleaning of their uniforms last night — if some of the Dom Perignon they had in the clubhouse spilled during the celebration of Acta’s first major league managing victory. “It was great, unbelievable,” Acta said. “I didn’t know I had so many bottles of Dom Perignon waiting for me. … Everybody was congratulating me. It is a special moment. The first one is always special.”

Acta wiped his eyes as he described the moment. But if he had been crying, they were probably tears of relief as much as tears of joy. After two embarrassing defeats by a combined score of 18-5 and on the way to taking another beat down yesterday — trailing 6-1 after five innings — there was a sense these 2007 Nationals might fulfill the destiny so many observers predicted this year: a historically bad season.

It turns out Acta did have words of wisdom for his team directly related to that notion — besides the motivational message about laundry.

He said it was something along the lines of “The best path toward a good destiny is to create it yourself.”

And, of course, Florida put the game in the hands of Jorge Julio, who entered in the ninth inning with a 6-4 lead. For anyone who had seen Julio’s work in an Orioles uniform, the game certainly was over at that moment.

Ronnie Belliard led off with a double down the left-field line. Two batters later, rookie Kory Casto drove home the tying run with a hard-hit ground ball off shortstop Hanley Ramirez. Two batters after Casto, with the bases loaded and just one out, Dmitri Young brought Casto home with the game-winning hit — a fly ball deep to left field that Josh Willingham let drop. Willingham was hoping it would fall foul because if he caught it, he had no chance to get Casto on what would have been a game-winning sacrifice fly.

The Nationals ran on the field and mobbed Young, celebrating as if they had won the World Series. They were celebrating the message of a team that still has hope, though is a little bit frayed, after dropping two of three at home to the Marlins to open the season: They are not going to be as bad as everyone thinks.

“We definitely needed the game,” Young said. “The Florida Marlins came out swinging, making us look bad, even in the first half of the ball game today. But we didn’t give up.”

No, they didn’t. They might not have much pitching, they might not have very good fielding and they might not have enough hitting. But one thing they do have is heart. And if a team is going to be bad, it better at least have heart.

That appears to have been adopted as the 2007 Nationals theme song — “You’ve gotta have heart” — from the appropriately connected musical “Damn Yankees,” about a Washington Senators fan named Joe Boyd who sells his soul to the devil to become slugger Joe Hardy and lead the hapless Senators over the mighty New York Yankees to win the American League pennant.

This, then, is the view from within the organization about the prospects of the 2007 Nationals, with the ball bouncing over the words to the song on the giant video screen at RFK:

“You’ve gotta have heart! All you really need is heart!

“When the odds are sayin’ you’ll never win, that’s when the grin should start!

“You’ve gotta have hope! Mustn’t sit around and mope. Nothin’s half as bad as it may appear, wait’ll next year and hope.

“When your luck is battin’ zero, get your chin up off the floor. Mister, you can be a hero. You can open any door. There’s nothin’ to it, but to do it.

“You’ve gotta have heart! Miles and miles and miles of heart! Oh, it’s fine to be a genius of course! But keep that ol’ horse before the cart! First you’ve got to have heart!”

The Nationals were losing 6-4 before they played that song. But they did not make a deal with the Devil. It was more a case of fighting against their destiny, or, as newly victorious manager Manny Acta told them, creating a destiny for themselves.

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