Nationals 4, Astros 3
Washington’s lone All-Star last week, Young lifted his batting average to a team-best .339 and his RBI total to a team-best 52. His ninth homer of the season came on a 1-0 pitch from Woody Williams with one out in the sixth inning.
Young’s big hit put Washington ahead 4-2 and made a winner of reliever Saul Rivera (4-2), who pitched 1 1-3 scoreless innings and stranded two inherited runners. Jon Rauch allowed Carlos Lee’s 17th homer before getting out of the eighth, and closer Chad Cordero pitched a perfect ninth for his 16th save.
Rivera replaced Mike Bacsik, who gave up two runs—one earned—and seven hits over 5 2-3 innings. Bacsik might have given up more runs, but the Astros hurt themselves with two baserunning miscues.
In the fourth, Lance Berkman singled, Lee walked, and Mark Loretta hit a sinking liner to shallow right. Outfielder Austin Kearns attempted to make a sliding catch but dropped the ball, and Berkman held up at second, so both he and Lee were standing there. Kearns threw the ball to second baseman Belliard, whose relay easily beat Berkman to third for an unusual 9-4-5 fielder’s choice.
After Ensberg loaded the bases by reaching on what was ruled an infield single—first baseman Young dropped shortstop Felipe Lopez’s one-hop throw— Bruntlett grounded out to Young to end the inning.
Washington went up 1-0 in the fourth when Zimmerman reached on an infield single, advanced to third on Young’s single to left-center, and scored on Ryan Church’s groundout.
Houston took the lead two innings later. Hunter Pence led off with what appeared to be a routine grounder to short, but Lopez’s throw sailed over Young and into the visitors’ dugout for a two-base error. Berkman followed with a soft single to right, putting runners on the corners with no outs. Lee’s RBI single to right tied the game and snapped a personal 0-for-9 drought, and Loretta’s sacrifice fly made it 2-1.
But then Young came through, just as he has repeatedly in what’s been quite a comeback year. In 2006, he faced an assault charge, treatment for alcoholism and depression, a divorce and hospitalization for diabetes—and was cut by Detroit with less than a month left in the regular season.
Young signed a non-guaranteed deal with the Nationals in February and opened spring training in their minor league camp. But with Nick Johnson recovering from a broken leg, Young earned the starting job at first base—and he’s thrived.
In the 50 games since May 17, Young is hitting .404, the best average in the majors over that span. He entered Monday with a .336 average, second in the NL.
That’s why a rebuilding Washington, 38-54 after Monday’s victory, might be able to get good prospects in return for Young ahead of the July 31 trade deadline.
Astros RHP Chad Qualls lost his appeal of a three-game suspension and $3,000 fine for throwing a baseball into the stands during a game last month. Qualls, who got one out in relief Monday, will begin serving the suspension Tuesday. … Houston fell to 15-32 on the road.