- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 19, 2007

THE WASHINGTON TIMES The runners were on first and second, there were no outs in the ninth and the Washington Nationals were on the cusp of completing a comeback that had been unfathomable earlier in the night when they trailed the Detroit Tigers by eight runs.

Yet Dmitri Young stood at the plate with an opportunity to complete the rally with a game-winning hit against the club that released him less than a year ago.

Fitting ending, anyone?

“I saw Dmitri up there, and he’s been carrying us,” teammate Austin Kearns said. “You think right there we have a good shot. I’m sure there was a little extra incentive for him.”

Alas, the happy ending will have to wait for another night. Young fouled off four straight pitches before striking out, and Tigers closer Todd Jones composed himself to retire both Kearns and Ronnie Belliard to preserve his team’s 9-8 victory at RFK Stadium.

An evening that was anything but dramatic for more than two hours turned intense with a late rally by the home club. Washington trailed 9-1 after five innings, with rookie left-hander Matt Chico getting tagged for eight of those runs and Detroit lefty Mike Maroth on his way to what looked like an easy win.

Many in the crowd of 22,562 already were starting to make their way toward the exits, conceding a Nationals loss in the opener of a six-game homestand.

Yet inside the third-base dugout, there was a sense the game was not yet over.

“That’s why they are where they are at,” manager Manny Acta said. “They earned the respect of a lot of teams because of that. These guys, they haven’t rolled over once yet.”

So the rally began in earnest, with six straight Washington batters reaching base safely in the sixth. Only one player came through with anything more than a single — Felipe Lopez, whose triple scored Cristian Guzman — but everyone contributed something. Ryan Zimmerman reached on an error. Young singled. Kearns drew a walk, knocking Maroth out of the game. Ryan Church greeted reliever Bobby Seay with an RBI single, and Brian Schneider added a sacrifice fly to cap a four-run rally that cut the Nationals’ deficit from 9-1 to 9-5.

The score remained that way until the ninth, when Detroit manager Jim Leyland summoned Jones in a rare nonsave situation, believing the veteran right-hander would finish things off with ease.

The Nationals had other ideas. Ryan Langerhans led off with a double to right. Robert Fick followed with a single to left. Cristian Guzman drove both runners in with a triple down the right-field line, and the remaining crowd starting believing along with the players something magical might happen.

“It’s exciting when things like that happen,” Zimmerman said. “You’ve got to really concentrate at the plate so you don’t swing at bad pitches because you just want it to keep going and going, stringing it along and along.”

Zimmerman did his part, sending a single to right to keep the rally going, leaving Washington with a golden opportunity: runners on first and second, nobody out and Young at the plate.

Normally, that situation would call for a sacrifice bunt, but the .335-hitting Young has laid down only three of those successfully in his 12-year career, none since 2001. So Acta let him swing away, hoping his cleanup hitter would come through against his former club.

Young had spent much of the afternoon greeting and hugging ex-teammates on the visiting side of the field. A beloved player during his five years in Detroit, he was unceremoniously cast aside in September after a spate of off-field problems affected his on-field play.

Yesterday, Tigers manager Jim Leyland spoke with Young and commended him for turning things back around.

“The best thing that could’ve ever happened to him was when we released him,” Leyland said. “I told him that today. He had time to get his life straightened out. … He’s a good man, and I couldn’t be happier for him. I’m glad to see things going well for him.”

The last thing Leyland wanted, though, was to see Young deal his club a tough loss. Fortunately for him, Jones got his act back together just in time to strike out Young.

Kearns then hit into a fielder’s choice, advancing the tying runner to third but leaving Belliard to drive him in with two outs. But Belliard grounded out to short, the Tigers celebrated in the middle of the diamond and the Nationals couldn’t help wondering how great it would have been to see Young get the big hit.

“You think about it,” Zimmerman said. “But I would have been just as happy if he was up against the Brewers to win the game. It would have been special, but he’s got two more games to do it.”

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