Anthony Rendon kept the top of the ninth alive with a two-out single, then Juan Soto played hero for the Washington Nationals with a go-ahead, two-run homer off Philadelphia Phillies’ closer Hector Neris, hitting a first-pitch splitter out to left-center for a 4-3 lead that held up.
“I was looking for the split,” Soto said, which he should have been, since Neris is throwing 68% splitters this season and only has one other pitch. “I saw the ball up really high [in the zone],” the 20-year-old Nats’ slugger added, and he flat crushed it.
“The ball he hit,” manager Davey Martinez said, “we told him, ‘Hey, you’ve got to get the ball up on Neris, he’s got a nasty split,’ and he got the ball up and juiced it.”
Soto hit his 16th home run of the season 420 feet to the left of center field in Citizens Bank Park.
He pounded his chest as he rounded the bases after turning a 3-2 deficit into a 4-3 lead with one swing.
“I can’t say enough about him, being 20 and doing the things that he does and constantly wanting to learn more and more every day. I’m just glad that he’s on our team, I really am,” Martinez continued.
Early in his career, the Nationals’ second-year outfielder has already shown a flair for the dramatic.
“He doesn’t shy away from big moments, I can tell you that,” Martinez said, “but he’s just a good hitter. He understands when he steps in the batter’s box, he has a plan on what he wants to do.”
And the chest-pounding on the basepaths?
“It was awesome,” Martinez told reporters.
“Big moment, comes through, pumped his teammates up and he was just showing a little emotion.”
Soto’s blast, and Sean Doolittle’s scoreless ninth, gave the Nationals their 30th win in the last 41 games. It wasn’t the cleanest game, with some mistakes on the basepaths, and 10 left on base in a one-run game in which they were 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position, but the win was a big one for them and a heartbreaker for the Phillies.
“We talked a while ago about just staying positive and just being consistent every day, just play good, consistent baseball every day,” Martinez said, “and I talked since Spring Training [about] doing the little things, and not beating ourselves, just don’t beat ourselves, you know, come ready to play and they’ve been doing that and they don’t quit. We talk about this all the time, ‘We can be down, but stay in the game.’ I say, ‘We’ve got the pitching, you guys, hey, we’re down a couple runs, keep fighting, anything can happen.’”
Will the Nationals go 1-0 again today and take three straight in Citizens Bank?