Twins Avoid Sweep Against Nats

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 11, 2007

MINNEAPOLIS, June 10 -- Dmitri Young stood at home plate as the latest ball scorched off his bat tailed toward the seats in the upper deck in right field at the Metrodome. The shot was towering, and there was just one question in the first inning Sunday afternoon: Fair or foul. First base umpire Ron Kulpa came through with an emphatic signal: Fair. Young trotted around the bases, a two-run homer providing a two-run lead over the Minnesota Twins.

But out of the dugout came Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire. The ensuing minutes involved a discussion among the entire umpiring crew, a disconsolate walk from Nationals Manager Manny Acta back to his dugout, the return of Cristian Guzman to second base and Young to the plate. The ultimate call: Foul, something of a tone-setter in the Nationals' 6-3 loss to the Twins.

"You're like, 'Great, two-run lead,' " said starting pitcher Mike Bacsik, who was sitting in the tunnel behind the dugout. "The next thing I know, the crowd starts cheering."

To be sure, there were many more elements to this loss, not the least of which were the 11 base runners the Nationals left on base, tying a season high. Bacsik's start was uninspiring, featuring a three-run first, and the Nationals went 2 for 13 with runners in scoring position.

"We just couldn't get the big hit," said Ryan Zimmerman, who went 0 for 5 as the designated hitter.

Nor could they get the big call. Young is as locked in as any hitter in baseball right now, and he finished the day 3 for 5 to lift his average to .342. In 22 games since May 17, when he hit a pinch single against Atlanta, he is hitting a nearly unconscious .506 (39 for 77), the best average in baseball during that span.

"I'm in a good environment," Young said. "I'm happy, and don't have too much going on inside my brain."

That wasn't the case last year, when the Detroit Tigers released Young after a series of legal and personal problems. The Nationals signed him to a minor league contract in February. He was a .289 career hitter with 154 homers in parts of 11 seasons, but he was perceived to be such damaged goods that all he needed to sign was a promise that he would make $500,000 if he made the team.

Now, he is a crucial part of the Nationals' lineup, in which he hits cleanup, not to mention a crucial part of the clubhouse mix.

"We gave him a clean slate, and thank God we did, because this guy's been outstanding," Acta said. "Not only on the field, but in the clubhouse. Every one of our players likes him. He's easy to coach. Just been terrific. I'm glad we gave him the benefit of the doubt."

He didn't get that benefit from the umpires when, with Guzman on second after a double, he turned on a down-and-inside pitch from Boof Bonser, sending it high to right. As the ball headed toward the Metrodome roof, Young just stood at the plate.

"It was one of those where you don't know if it's going to be fair or foul," Young said. "You're just looking."

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