Baseball is saturated with numbers. So saturated, in fact, that the stat sheet can only tell you so much about a player. Last fall, as a 20-year-old, Dominican slugger Juan Soto helped to carry the Nationals to their first World Series title by hitting three home runs and becoming the first player 21 or younger since Mickey Mantle (yes, Mantle) to have seven RBIs in a single Fall Classic.
Those are big numbers. But you don’t become a rising star, like Soto—who at 6’2”, 224-lbs, has a unique combination of power and speed and turned 21 during the World Series—just by putting up numbers. You have to make moments. And during the 2019 Major League Baseball Postseason, Soto had plenty of them.
Soto Steps Up—and Delivers a Walk-Off Playoff Win
One of Soto’s first moments came in the NL Wild Card game against the Milwaukee Brewers. With two outs in the eighth inning and one of baseball’s best relievers, Josh Hader, on the mound with a 3-1 lead, Soto hit what became the game-winning single, bringing in three runs for a come-from-behind victory. Soto’s heroics were a sign of things to come.
“Everything [got] electric after that,” he told Men’s Journal this winter. After he rounded the bases, “everyone was just jumping around,” thinking “we were going to win this thing.”
For some athletes, playing under the bright lights of the playoffs with millions of people watching might make them nervous. For Soto, he may have been too young to realize he should be. The Nationals faced multiple elimination games throughout the postseason, and Soto played a starring role in every one of them.
Soto’s steely demeanor in those moments is rooted back to his early baseball days. “Everything comes from when I was a kid,” Soto says. “I played a lot of Little League tournaments and I represented the Dominican a couple of times. I played the Caribbean Series Little League and it helped me because you learn how to handle those moments. I try to forget about the crowd, try to control my emotions and just think about the game itself. It’s just the pitcher and I. It’s the same game I’ve always played since I was a kid.”
Connecting Against Clayton Kershaw
After that NL Wild Card game single, Soto kept the moments kept coming. In Game 5 of the National League Series, he homered off three-time NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw—tying and sending the game into extra innings. The Nationals won the game on a Howie Kendrick grand slam. Naturally, Soto was intentionally walked before Kendrick stepped up to the plate.
There Soto was again, right in the middle of a playoff moment for the Nationals.
“At the beginning of September we were playing the Mets, and the crowd was loud and crazy, it was like a playoff game,” Soto says. “My teammates told me that was a little taste of the playoffs, and I’m like, ‘I want it. I want to be there.’ I was ready for it.” Soto proved it once the postseason started—and later when he helped the Nationals make it to the World Series.
Soto Becomes a Bat-Carrying, World Series Warrior
Facing off in the World Series against the favored Astros, a team filled with All-Star players and (potential) future Hall of Famers—but who knows now with the cheating scandal that has engulfed the team—Soto did it again.
In Game 1 of the World Series, Soto hit a home run off arguably the best pitcher in baseball, Gerrit Cole—who was nearly unhittable the entire season and signed a mammoth $324 million contract with the Yankees this offseason. Later, Soto homered again off in Game 5 and had more theatrics to come.
Soto’s biggest moment of the playoffs came in Game 6 of the World Series. In the first inning, the Astros’ Alex Bregman celebrated an early homer by carrying his bat all the way to first base, then handing it to his first base coach. Soto got revenge in the fifth, smacking a homer of his own off Houston’s other ace, Justin Verlander, and then carrying his bat all the way to first base.
Here’s a look at Soto’s home run:
While both managers and some pro players weren’t too happy with the antics, one writer from NBC Sports described it as one of the “more creative troll jobs” you’ll see and a rare combination of “swagger and presence of mind.”
Afterward, Soto said admiration, not fury, fueled the bat-carry. “I was like, ‘That was pretty cool—I wanna do that.’” So he did.
Soto’s Historic Postseason
As mentioned before, Soto joined some rare company with his postseason and World Series performance. Along with pulling even with Mantle, Soto became the youngest player in MLB history to hit three home runs in a single World Series; tied a record with 18 postseason hits at age 21 or younger; and became only the fourth player in baseball history to hit a World Series home run before his 21st birthday. Not bad for someone who couldn’t legally drink until basically his team won the championship.
In just his second season, Soto accomplished what many athletes can only dream of. But he’s not satisfied: Soto wants “a champion shower again” and isn’t daunted knowing the Nats will have “everybody” in baseball coming for them.
Despite having that target, Soto’s happy living in the moment—just like he did all postseason.
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