One Strike Away

"You can't second-guess positioning,'' Hoffman said. "If I bore it in a little more, maybe they hit it where he is on the line. Those things are out of my control. I'm not going to point the finger at anything like that. That's for sure. They had nobody on and two outs. I have to get the job done.''

Next up was Troy Glaus, coming off a Home Run Derby embarrassment in which he'd hit precisely one home run in 11 swings the night before. Glaus had spent enough time in the NL West to know hitting off Hoffman here would be no fun.

"I can only remember one other hit I ever got off him, and that's it," said Glaus, who was in fact 1-for-3 lifetime off Hoffman. "His track record speaks for itself. We're talking 420 saves, man. The only thing I'm thinking, first and foremost, is: Don't make the last out of the All-Star Game."

And he didn't, sizzling an 0-1 changeup through the ionized night, deep into the left-field corner. It was all set to be a game-tying double until the baseball gods took over, high-hopping this ball into the left-field seats. So instead of a tie game, it was second and third, two outs.

"Obviously, (pinch-runner) Jose (Lopez) was going to score there," Glaus said. "But at least we extended the game and gave us a chance. And the guy coming up next gets 220 hits a year for a reason."

The guy coming up next isn't a household name in anyone's household east of about San Antonio. But 5½ years into his career, he has already zoomed past 1,000 career hits. And the only AL hitters with more hits than Michael Young since 2001 are guys you may have heard of -- Ichiro Suzuki, Miguel Tejada, Derek Jeter and A-Rod.

But two pitches into this at-bat, it didn't look like the defining moment of Young's career. He was down in the count, 0 and 2. And 40,000 people were on their feet. And, as Young carefully smoothed the batter's box with his spikes, Hoffman stared at him from 60 feet away, with the look of a man ready to get this over with.

He was one strike away.

"I looked for a fastball on the first pitch, got it and fouled it off," Young said. "Then I looked for a changeup on the second pitch, got it and fouled that off. I figured that thinking was doing me no good whatsoever. So I just wanted to see the ball and make contact."

This was the kind of situation that had made Trevor Hoffman the future Hall of Famer he is. No balls. Two strikes. His time. His count. He has run up 30 0-and-2 counts so far in the regular season. The guys he's run them against are 2-for-30.

But this time, his catcher, Atlanta's Brian McCann, had a feeling Young was looking changeup. So he called for an 0-2 fastball.

Young roped it toward the mighty Allegheny. And you could feel the forces of the universe shifting.

Hoffman admitted afterward he might be thinking about the changeup he didn't throw for a long, long time.

"It's something I might contemplate tonight,'' Hoffman said. "You've gotta go with your bread and butter, and my 86-mph hour heater isn't going to scare too many people sometimes.''

But then again, there isn't much of anything that scares Michael Young, a man who will never again float below anyone's radar screen.

Once upon a time, as a kid, Young read a book on hitting by the great Ted Williams. It was a book that changed his career, he said. It was a book that helped teach him how to hit.

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