CRÊME PHILADELPHIA – At the top of the ninth inning, followed by a goal over the Washington Nationals, and almost all of Citizens Bank Park standing and cheering impatiently, Juan Soto hit a rocket. He did not stop, he did not hang himself. He left the park and zero doubt.
The young Nationals rookie made the decisive blow in the 4-3 win on Saturday night against the Philadelphia Phillies. When asked if he knew he was gone when he hit him, Soto smiled and said, "Uh, yes." I hit him so hard. "
Hector Neris, closer to the Phillies, surprised Soto a little less than most other players. When the 20-year-old has dug into the batter's box, he has risen. Usually, Soto's left foot scores on the back chalk line of the box, but this time he took two steps forward to get as close to the pitcher as possible. He had a plan.
Neris throws her splitter nearly 70% of the time and Soto wanted to see the field as soon as possible. Director Dave Martinez had told Soto to look for something in which Neris was the most vulnerable. While Soto was settling into the surface, he glimpsed from the corner of the eye the Phillies catcher, J.T. Realmuto went one step further too. Soto saw this as confirming his suspicions: incoming splitter.
The field arrived letters-high, a little further.
"He's hanging it," said Soto. "He just throws in the middle."
This victory brought the Nationals two-game lead in the standings with the wild-cards of the NL, eliminated the Phillies from second place and allowed the Nationals to win the best series of 41 matches in their history with a franchise from 30 to 11 – after 19. -31 years, apparently dead.
Martinez congratulated the pen and its starter, Patrick Corbin, for keeping the game within reach.
"I've talked since the spring training [about] do the little things and do not fight yourself, "he said. "They do it and they do not stop. We talk about it all the time: "We can be down, but stay in the game."
Other pieces of this night will be lost in time. The little things that other nationals have done, like Anthony Rendon's ninth-place goal in the ninth to keep a difficult attack afloat or the match of Sean Doolittle, pitcher around a goal and a stolen base at the bottom of the sleeve. For the second night in a row, the Nationals' office made three scoreless innings, this time with five substitutes.
Until the meeting between Soto and Neris, the Nationals had been stagnant. The bats had a night of rest, failing repeatedly with the riders in scoring position.
Before the ninth, the Nationals put a runner on the third goal four times. One ended up in the first run, another in the third, and two in the eighth. Three times this runner has found his way with a single withdrawal. Only one scored. In the eighth, they loaded the bases by dragging one with two down, but the hitter nipper Kurt Suzuki sank to the second.
Victor Robles was at the same time responsible for the advancement of the team's cause and his subtraction: he flew in the first leg of the Nationals game with a single in the sixth, but in the second, he was sent off to try to double a double, and the nationals did not score that point.
On the mound, Corbin embodied what was felt for so much of the game as a satisfying performance but not good enough. He allowed six hits and three runs while walking two and took out ten in six innings.
An hour before the match, the pressure on his departure – and on the start of each national thrower after the match – has increased. The Nationals have put ace Max Scherzer on the 10-day wounded list with a sprain in the middle of the back, which means the team's already uncertain rotation seems even more murky. Martinez will have several decisions to make in the coming days on how he will use Monday's day off – that he will use a four-player rotation and a seeded or five-man rotation and two starters – but the way his team fought back on Saturday eased those worries, if only for a moment.
In the ninth, Corbin was in the locker room. He heard the roar of the stadium and looked up at the clubhouse television, which was delayed. Later, he smiles while describing Soto's home run.
"He's such a talented player," said Corbin. "If you make a mistake, it can do damage."
As Corbin looked at the screen, Soto climbed onto the ground, rounding the third base. The usually reserved player displayed a rare emotion. He stared at his canoe, a thin line under the sea of fans in red Phillies, and banged his chest. Where his teammates seemed disappointed moments ago, they went wild.
"It's amazing," Soto said after rounding off the basics. "It's amazing when you try to help your team as much as possible and you know you have a good pitcher on the mound and you're fighting with this team." He stopped himself.
"These are all the emotions that come out."