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Juan Soto saves the Washington Nationals from another postseason disappointment

With the bases loaded and two out in the eighth, Juan Soto came up with a hit to right that was misplayed into a base-clearing, go-ahead, game-winner...

Wild Card Round - Milwaukee Brewers v Washington Nationals Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Washington Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez talked before the NL Wild Card Game about his 20 and 22-year-old outfielders Juan Soto and Victor Robles, and how he thought the two of them would handle the spotlight of postseason baseball.

“I’ve seen them step up in the limelight, I have,” Martinez said.

“I mean we’ve played some unbelievable games in New York and Atlanta, and these guys have performed really well, so I expect them to go out there and just have fun. The biggest thing with the young guys is just to go out there and have fun and be loose. There’s nobody looser than Victor Robles in our dugout, I can tell you that right now. Don’t be surprised if you see him dancing before the game, that’s who he is, that’s what he does, he loves it. He’s a guy that brings the energy every day, him and Soto both, they bring that energy every day and it’s a lot of fun.”

“I expect them to go out there tomorrow and just be themselves and have fun.”

Soto was asked before the game how he was feeling heading into his first exposure to the excitement of postseason play.

“I feel amazing,” Soto said. “I feel really happy, first time being here. I can’t wait to see the crowd, how it’s going to be today, and they’re going to be cheering and all this stuff.

“I’m going to be really excited. I like those kind of games like that, when all the crowd, the team, everybody is working hard and proud of themselves. It’s going to be fun.”

It wasn’t fun for seven and a half innings.

Early home runs off Max Scherzer put the visiting Milwaukee Brewers up 3-0, and it was 3-1 when the Nationals stepped in against hard-throwing lefty Josh Hader in the bottom of the eighth.

Robles, who was 1 for 2 to that point, struck out to start the inning, but Hader hit Michael A. Taylor, and one out later gave up a single to center by Ryan Zimmerman. Anthony Rendon’s two-out walk loaded the bases in front of Soto, and the second-year major leaguer, who put up a .285/.371/.478 line against lefties this season, dug in against the Brewers’ lefty...

Before the game, Soto talked to reporters about how he would approach the southpaws in Milwaukee’s bullpen.

“I don’t know,” he said, “but I’m just going to try to stay focused and try to keep working how I’ve been working with every lefty in the year, and just one more game.”

Soto fouled off a first-pitch fastball, spit on an 0-1 slider, and then lined a 95 MPH 1-1 heater up in the zone, outside, out to right for a single which got under Brewers’ right fielder Trent Grisham’s glove, allowing three runs to score, 4-3 Nationals. Soto was tagged out between second and third, but the Nats were up by a run in what was suddenly a save situation.

Daniel Hudson handled the ninth, working around a one-out single, and Soto’s hit earned the Nationals a trip to LA for the start of their NLDS matchup on Thursday night.

“What about that?” Martinez said when asked about Soto’s hit in his post game press conference.

“He’s done it all year for us. That’s why he’s a cleanup hitter. He makes good at bats, and he comes through when we need him to come through. He’s been unbelievable all year for us.”

The scouting report on Hader going into the eighth?

“The biggest thing is we told the guys to be aggressive, but in the strike zone,” Martinez told reporters.

“Make him throw strikes. Obviously, that’s key for anything, but when he’s throwing 97, 98, you’ve got to get them in the strike zone. I thought we did a pretty good job of that today.”

Soto was asked to walk everyone through his bases-loaded at bat against the Brewers’ lefty.

“To me, I just step in there, I know he’s in trouble,” Soto explained. “He going to try to attack me with his fastball up and the slider. I mean, I just step in there and try to hit the ball and single to the middle. That’s [was] all I [thought] in that bat, hit a ground ball single to the middle and try to tie the game.”

“I mean, most of the guys, we know he likes to throw high heaters, and not much sliders,” he added. “He just throws a lot of heaters. We try to make him throw strikes. We just make sure he throws strikes. And then when they come up, like I said, I know he’s going to try to attack me.”

And when he saw the ball get under Grisham’s glove in right field?

“I just see the -- I want to make sure they throw the ball to the third baseman, and make the rundown over there, and try to make a score,” Soto said, so he ran into the out intentionally to make sure the go-ahead run scored, and it did.

The big messages this year from the Nats’ skipper: Go 1-0 every day, and “Stay in the Fight.”

The Nationals apparently got the message.

“Mike’s at-bat, Tony’s at-bat, Zimm’s at-bat. Everything that led up to Juan’s hit, obviously, it was a big hit in a very tough situation, but the whole inning in general I appreciate because I know how tough it is to face that guy out there,” Martinez said.

“And you can say don’t swing at the high heater, but it’s a simple concept but not easy. To put those three at-bats together before Juan’s, and Juan put the hit out there to tie the game, and the mistake out there was big. But we’re never going to give up and we’re going to continue to do that until the last at bat is made.”