Josh Bell apparently didn’t see Austin Hays rounding third base in the sixth inning of Friday night’s 4-2 Washington Nationals’ win over Baltimore, and he really didn’t have time to think about him either.
The Nats were leading 2-0 with one out, but starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg had tired after five innings in his first start back from the disabled list, and had walked Austin Hays with one out.
Manager Davey Martinez called on Kyle Finnegan, his favorite mid-game stopper, to face Trey Mancini.
But the Orioles’ best hitter battled from behind in the count and lined a shot past Soto that bounced off the warning track and the right field fence.
Hays got a good jump and was rounding second by the time Soto collected the ball and heaved it from deep right toward second baseman Josh Harrison, about 10 feet past the infield dirt.
Soto’s throw flew over the leaping Harrison and caromed toward the infield, where Bell was in perfect backup position.
“At first base I’m supposed to watch the runner touch the bag. So I’m kind of late getting to that play, so I can watch the throw,” Bell told reporters afterward. “I saw that it was just a little bit offline, I was able to get to it.”
Hays had a stop sign and was coasting into third when the ball sailed over Harrison’s head, and third-base coach Tony Mansolino frantically waved the runner home.
“I didn’t even seen the runner going, it was more like the crowd kind of told me that he was going because everyone was like, ‘Ohhhh,’” Bell continued, “So I heard that.”
Facing the outfield and moving to his left, Bell fielded the hop with his glove hand, wheeled around and fired to catcher Yan Gomes, about three feet in front of the plate.
“I look home — Yan was right there ready to go.”
Gomes caught the ball on a short hop and put the sweep tag on Hays at the apex of his head-first dive, just above the belt, with his hand still suspended about a foot above the plate.
“He worked so hard this Spring Training and with [Bench Coach Tim Bogar] on his throwing and he did it perfectly,” Martinez said. “He really did. We want him to throw the ball down and he threw the ball down and he threw pretty much a good ball for us to get the runner out, so he did a great job.”
Bell didn’t have time to think.
“It was all spur of the moment. Just kind of reaction. Read the throw, catch the ball, know that the runner is going home and, you know, make the throw.”
The play secured the second out of the inning and preserved the shutout to that point, erasing a runner who was Strasburg’s responsibility.
Finnegan struck out Anthony Santander to end the threat.
“That’s a huge, huge play. You got to keep runs off the board to win the game, so especially the way Stephen was pitching out there, it was fun,” said Bell.
“I haven’t made a play like that in my career thus far. So that was first, I hope, of many cool plays like that.”
Bell and Martinez credited watching his teammates in action and extra work, starting in Spring Training, with Bogar.
“I’ve been watching Trea, you know. We’ve been getting a lot of work in,” said Bell. “I think the overall emphasis that Bogar talks to me every day, just stay athletic, have fun out there, don’t try to do too much.
“When the game is calling for a certain play, just make it, don’t try to overthink it, just make the play.”