Juan Soto went 1-for-4 with a first-inning single and dropped behind LA’s Trea Turner in the former teammates’ race for the National League batting title in the Washington Nationals’ 5-4 win over the Colorado Rockies.
The Nationals’ 22-year-old superstar came into the game in a statistical near-dead heat at .322 with Turner, who was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers with Max Scherzer in the deadline deal that brought the Nats their starting battery, Josiah Gray and Keibert Ruiz.
Soto ended it, however, with a .321 average to drop behind the idle Turner.
Soto has five games remaining, with an off day Thursday, while Turner has six games in six days to close the regular season.
Soto had his best chance to see a strike and affect the game in the ninth, with the bases loaded, the Nats ahead 5-3, and nobody out.
Rockies’ reliever Carlos Estevez put a 2-0 pitch almost over the middle of the plate, but Soto might have been expecting a mid-90s fastball instead of a 90-mph change-up from the veteran right-hander. He swung under it and popped up to left fielder Raimel Tapia for the first out of the inning.
Soto drilled the second pitch he saw from Germán Márquez, a 94-mph fastball, into center at Coors Field for a line-drive single that briefly lifted his batting average above Turner’s.
In the fourth against Márquez, he took a rare called third strike, an 87-mph knuckle-curve ball after seeing an assortment of hard sliders, sinkers, and fastballs previously.
In the fifth, still against Márquez, Soto grounded into a fielder’s choice by shortstop Trevor Story in the shift, driving in Lane Thomas for this team-leading 93rd RBI.
Soto was stranded when Josh Bell struck out and Yadiel Hernandez grounded out to second.
With two outs in the seventh, Robert Stephenson issued Soto his major league-leading 139th base on balls before Josh Bell grounded out to second to end the inning.
The Nationals won the game behind two hits and two RBIs from Luis García and big games from the hitters ahead of Soto in the order. Leadoff man Thomas was 2-for-5 with a double and No. 2 hitter Escobar banged out three singles, a ninth-inning RBI single to extend the Nats’ lead to 5-3.
Gray earned his second win as a National and evened his record at 2-2 by holding the Rockies scoreless through five before allowing Ryan McMahon’s three-run double in the sixth.
“I just thought he just got tired there at the end,” manager Davey Martinez told reporters afterward. “But I thought he threw the ball well. Early on he threw the ball fantastic. Had everything working. Breaking ball was good, fastball was located well, so I think he just got tired at the end.”
The Nats got 2 2⁄3 innings of scoreless relief from Austin Voth, Mason Thompson and Kyle Finnegan, who stranded men on first and second by getting Tapia to bounce to first.
“For me, they attacked the strike zone. Mason did a great job as well, and that was awesome to see him come in in the seventh like that and get those outs that we needed, but when you throw strikes and you limit the walks, good things happen, that’s something that we talk about a lot with these guys, and it was a good night for them.”
Tanner Rainey, who has apparently supplanted Finnegan as closer, converted his third save of the season despite giving up CJ Cron’s RBI double that made it 5-4.