WASHINGTON (AP)—Robert Fick sprinted across the diamond to wrap his arms around Dmitri Young. Then Young sought out Manny Acta for a hearty embrace. Most of the Washington Nationals gathered near the mound to hug, high-five and hop in unison.
Then they raced to the clubhouse, where the music blared and the champagne flowed.
Won the pennant? Not quite. The cause for celebration Wednesday? Washington’s ninth-inning rally to beat the Florida Marlins 7-6—the Nationals’ first victory of the season and Acta’s first win as a major league manager. There also was Young’s first key hit of his second chance, and Fick’s first truly happy moment lately.
“It was kind of fun to see the players go out there. You know, we just snapped a two-game losing streak, and they’re celebrating like we clinched the (NL) East. That tells me a lot about their character,” said Acta, who received bottles of bubbly from the Nationals and from his former employer, New York Mets general manager Omar Minaya.
Washington lost the season’s first two games to Florida by a combined score of 18-5, and then Wednesday trailed 5-0 and 6-1. It was 6-4 heading to the bottom of the ninth, but Young’s bases-loaded single with one out off closer Jorge Julio (0-1) completed the comeback. Young hit an arching ball toward the left-field corner, and outfielder Josh Willingham let it drop, hoping it would land foul.
“I knew it was going to be close,” Willingham said. “That was the only play I had.”
His manager, Fredi Gonzalez, agreed.
“He ain’t going to throw him out at the plate there,” Gonzalez said. “I thought it was a head’s-up play.”
But the ball dropped on the dirt, about a foot fair, and Young raised a fist while he ran to first and Kory Casto crossed the plate with the game-ending run.
“Dramatic fashion,” Young noted.
He was cut by the Tigers last season, then arrived at Washington’s minor league spring training camp less than two months ago with a non-guaranteed contract, a “zero tolerance” policy thanks to off-field issues that landed him in court and a rehab center in 2006, and plenty to prove.
Young emerged from a three-player competition to start at first while Nick Johnson recovers from a broken leg, and now is hitting .333 with three RBIs.
“It’s been a long road back for Dmitri,” said Fick, who’s known Young since their days at nearby high schools in California, then played with him in Detroit. “Everybody in this clubhouse loves him.”
Fick, who had an RBI single off Julio in the three-run ninth, knew about his pal’s problems, but also has his own concerns: Fick’s mother is battling cancer.
“We’re there for each other. I know his mother well, and we pray for her, for his family,” Young said. “Nobody should go through that situation.”
What Fick and Young and pretty much everyone in the Nationals’ clubhouse also wanted to talk about was how Acta’s steady hand kept the team from getting too down as it appeared headed to a season-opening sweep.
“We are a generally young team, with the exception of myself and a couple of other guys,” Young said. “If you see the manager panic, the players are going to panic. He didn’t panic. We didn’t panic.”
The bullpen threw five shutout innings, including Jon Rauch (1-0), who struck out the only two batters he faced in the ninth.
Ronnie Belliard led off the last half-inning with a double, and Fick drove him in. After Felipe Lopez’s sacrifice, Casto was credited with a single and his first major league RBI when his liner bounced off shortstop Hanley Ramirez’s chest and into the outfield to tie the score. Ryan Zimmerman singled, and Austin Kearns walked to load the bases, setting up Young.
“Contagious,” Zimmerman said.
Washington is trying to rebuild after three consecutive last-place finishes and relies on some players with little-to-no big league experience.
Wednesday’s starter, Matt Chico, was making his first appearance above Double-A. The left fielder, Casto, was making his second. Jesus Flores never appeared in a game above Class A before pinch hitting Wednesday.
“Everyone thinks were going to lose anyway,” Zimmerman said. “We might as well go out there and play free, and that’s what we did today.”
Miguel Cabrera, Mike Jacobs and Cody Ross homered off Chico. Ryan Church homered off Florida starter Anibal Sanchez. … With SS Cristian Guzman on the DL, the Nationals started their third shortstop in three games, with Felipe Lopez moving over from 2B. Ronnie Belliard started at second.