Juan Soto and Will Smith got beef. Soto strayed too far from the batter’s box while trying to get a look at the Atlanta Braves’ reliever warming up in the eighth inning of an August game last season, then Soto hit a home run off of Smith in the ninth and an intense staredown led to some words as Soto rounded the bases.
Over a year later, with one down in the ninth inning in the series opener on Tuesday night in Truist Park, Smith threw a slider out of the zone away, then the left-hander came back with a 94 MPH fastball to Soto’s back, which, judging by Soto’s reaction, hurt.
It was pretty well-located, and got Soto square.
Asked after the game if he read anything into Smith’s pitch, Washington Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez blew off the question.
“No. Honestly, I haven’t thought about it,” he said, before responding to the other half of the question about Soto’s 2 for 2, two-walk, and HBP game.
Before the second of three with the Braves on Wednesday, Martinez was asked if he’d talked to his pitchers and if he expected anything more to come of it.
“Hey, look,” the fourth-year skipper explained, “we’re going to go play the game and play to compete and try to go 1-0 today. I’m not going to get into that whole fiasco.
“I know that they had some words before. I don’t know what transpired yesterday, but we’re going to go out there today and try to win a baseball game.”
Apparently, Soto’s teammates, or at least teammate Sean Nolin, the starter, didn’t like what they saw.
Freddie Freeman hugs Juan Soto and talks to Dave Martinez after being intentionally HBP. pic.twitter.com/kDg2bCaZ7l— Major League GIFs (@MajorLeagueGIFs) September 9, 2021
Nolin got a groundout and gave up a single, and then threw one behind Freddie Freeman, higher than you’d like, up at the shoulders, then followed up on that, making his intentions clear, by hitting Freeman on the hip.
The umpires gathered and decided to toss him for the intentional HBP.
Everyone involved discussed the pitch after what ended up a 4-2 win for the Nationals.
“I mean, it’s the first inning of the game, and obviously it was super-humid out compared to the places we’ve been playing,” Nolin said, not wholly convincingly, “and — just happens, balls slip out of your hand, rosin for me doesn’t do much, but yeah...”
So he wasn’t trying to send a message with the pitch? “No, I wasn’t,” Nolin said.
“You know what, I talked to him and he said the ball slipped and he tried to go in — said the first one slipped, the second one he tried to go in,” Martinez said in his post game Zoom call with reporters.
“So, Freddie came over, I talked to him for a minute and he said he was good. I said, ‘Hey, look, I never tell anybody to hit anybody, ever, and I have the utmost respect for Freddie. I love watching him play, he plays the game the right way, so, it’s all good. Like I said earlier, we’re going to come out and play baseball today.”
“I wasn’t really thinking anything of that,” Freeman told reporters when asked if he expected retaliation.
“But it’s always in the back of your head, when Juan got hit last night, so that’s kind of where I was at, but wasn’t expecting two of them.”
As far as Freeman was concerned, if you’re going to do it, you’ve got one shot, once you miss with the first one, that should have been it.
“I just didn’t like the fact that it was two times,” Freeman said. “You can’t do two. You got one chance, you’ve got to hit me, and I’m totally fine, and I would have reacted the same way on the second pitch if he hit me on the first, I would have gone to first base, no big deal, but when you miss the first time, that’s your one chance, and that’s all he gets.”
Freeman said he told home plate umpire Lance Barksdale the same.
“I expressed that to Lance, when he missed me, I said, ‘Lance, that’s all he gets. That’s all he gets, if he goes again he’s got to go. That’s clear intent.’ So when he hit me again, I said, ‘Lance, I’m sorry, that’s two times. That’s clear intent.’ So, you can get around with the first one with saying you can get away with them and we would have all moved on and been fine, but when you do two times you can’t do that, so but I understand the situation, there’s no hard feelings from me, I get it, but I just want to let Juan know and let Davey know I totally understand the situation and let’s just move on.”
Freeman and Soto talked between innings, and the Braves’ first baseman did go over to the Nationals’ dugout to talk to Martinez too, as he said.
“I’ve known Freddie for a long time,” Martinez said. “So, and he’s that kind of guy, like I said, he understands that we both respect the game very much, and I respect him, and the feelings are mutual. I was glad he came over and I just said, ‘Hey, look, I don’t know what happened. I’m going to talk to Sean.’ So, he said the ball slipped.”
Soto’s take on the talk with Freeman?
“I just asked him if he was okay, and he was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m okay, I’m fine, they just got me a little bit on my belt,’ that’s it.”
Asked if he thought Smith’s pitch on Tuesday was intentional, Soto brushed it off.
“You know, sometimes it happens,” the 22-year-old slugger said.
“He wanted to throw the fastball in, he just missed more than he should. I know he didn’t want to get the tying run to the plate, so it happens, I really stepped on the plate. So, it is what it is, he just missed the spot.”
“I was just letting him know that Will had told me it wasn’t on purpose,” Freeman said of the talk with Soto.
“So just to kind of clear the air. But that’s kind of all I said, and I said, ‘I respect your game.’”