Juan Soto and Will Smith have history. Beef even. They got into it a bit during 2020’s 60-game campaign, over Soto’s attempt to get a close look at Smith warming up. He hit an absolute bomb of a home run off Smith later in that game last August in Atlanta.
Last night in D.C., Soto stepped in against the Braves’ left-hander with two on and no one out in the ninth, in a 5-5 game, and got up 3-0 before lining a fastball back up the middle for a walk-off winner.
“Was there any doubt about a 3-0 green light when you step in the box 3-0?” MASN’s FP Santangelo asked Soto in a post game interview after the season-opening win.
“Oh, hell no. I’m swinging the whole time. I’m swinging. If you throw it right there, I’m going to swing,” Soto said.
FP: "Was there any doubt about a 3-0 green light when you step in the box 3-0?"— Blake Finney (@FinneyBlake) April 6, 2021
Juan Soto: "Oh hell no" pic.twitter.com/e1yNus3ptp
“I’m swinging every time,” the 22-year-old slugger told reporters in a post game Zoom call a few minutes later.
“I know he’s going to come with the fastball because his slider is not too many for strikes, so I just sit on the fastball and be ready for it,” Soto explained.
“You know they’re going to be careful with him,” Max Scherzer said, after giving up four runs on four solo home runs in a six-inning outing in Nationals Park.
“And so especially in that situation, first and second, no outs, and then obviously he got the pitch to hit, 3-0. You always trust him swinging the bat 3-0. He was able to do damage and scored.
“You always want Soto to be aggressive. When he’s swinging the bat well we’re a really good ballclub, so great to see him come through in the clutch, it makes a fun day today.”
Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez said after the win he was just happy Soto saw the green light he gave him before the 3-0 pitch.
“We really don’t want him taking the 3-0,” the manager said.
“If he gets a good pitch to hit we want him to hit it. I would have been real upset if he had taken a 3-0 strike. We want him to hit. But what a great at bat.”
“I know Juan knows the strike zone really well, he’s going to get a good pitch to hit. So, and for him, as you see his at bats, working counts is what he does best. So, for me, for a guy like him, if he gets to that count 3-0, and they’re going to throw him a strike, you’re the guy — you want him up there and you want him to get the job done. I was proud of him to stay ready, stay focused, and he got a good pitch to hit and he hit a bullet up the middle and was able to drive in that winning run.”
Trea Turner, who got hit by a pitch in front of Soto, after Victor Robles singled to start the bottom of the ninth inning, said he knew Soto would be ready if he got a 3-0 pitch to hit.
“I know he’s definitely ready to swing,” Turner said, “but with Juan, he’s only going to swing at strikes. So, it’s kind of whether or not the pitcher is going to give him a pitch to hit. So, for me it’s just be ready, be ready for anything, don’t get picked off, cause my run doesn’t really matter, Robles is more important. So a lot of things going through my mind at first base, but for me it’s just be ready because Juan can hit the ball hard and do whatever he wants almost whenever he wants, so just be ready, and he got it done for us.”
It was, actually, Soto’s first career walk-off hit. His manager didn’t realize that.
“I did not, but it came at a timely moment. He’s just such a good hitter, it seems like he comes up there and comes through for us quite a bit.”
Catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who joined the team this week, said he wasn’t surprised to see Soto swinging 3-0, or winning it with another big hit.
“No, It didn’t shock me,” Lucroy told reporters. “I’ve played with Mike Trout. I’ve played with Albert Pujols. I’ve played with Adrian Beltre. I’ve played with some special, special players, hitters, and I’ve been really fortunate to be able to see guys like that my entire career, and [Soto is] just as deadly and just as effective offensively as anyone I’ve ever seen.”
Soto was 0 for 4 with a K before the walk-off winner, but he did make solid contact when he lined out sharply to center in the top of the eighth, before stepping in and hitting the single to end it.
“It’s crazy how good it feels,” Soto said. “I think it’s my first walk-off in the big leagues. It’s just amazing. Whenever I get to the plate, I just try to concentrate, try to hit the ball hard wherever it goes. Just try to bring that run in. For me, it just feels great to be there and to get the job done.”