By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 17, 2006
When the long-awaited moment arrived, when steal No. 40 and baseball history were secured, Alfonso Soriano dusted himself off, twisted the second base bag loose and raised it to the roaring crowd at RFK Stadium.
With two weeks remaining in the Washington Nationals' mostly forgettable season, Soriano gave the organization a rare moment to remember last night when he joined Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds and Jose Canseco as the only players to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in the same year.
After failing to reach the milestone in the previous four games, Soriano wasted no time attaining it during the Nationals' 8-5 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers.
Soriano singled to left in the first inning, watched teammate Felipe Lopez take a pair of pitches from Dave Bush, then bolted on Bush's third offering. Catcher Mike Rivera had trouble getting a grip on the ball and did not make a throw as Soriano plowed in headfirst.
As 24,252 spectators stood and saluted the achievement, Soriano summoned a bat boy to retrieve the bag from him while a member of the grounds crew scrambled to deliver a new base.
"I say to myself I don't want to rush, I want to wait for the right time to go," he said in front of his locker, where the prized base tilted to one side. "They make the first two pitches two balls, I say now is the time to go. . . . I see the fans screaming and I see when I get safe, I say to myself: 'I did it. I'm so happy.' "
He had said in recent days how badly he wanted to get the momentous steal out of the way to allow himself to concentrate on the waning days of his extraordinary season -- his first and perhaps last in Washington with a lucrative free agent contract awaiting.
Already with 45 home runs, he reached the stolen base mark in the Nationals' 148th game and became the first player to achieve it since Rodriguez had 42 homers and 46 steals eight years ago with the Seattle Mariners. Soriano's jersey will be delivered to Cooperstown, club officials said.
"I knew he was capable of hitting anywhere from 35 to 40 home runs," Manager Frank Robinson said. "The 45 has been a bonus, especially in this ballpark, and the 40 stolen bases, him running was a pleasant surprise early in the year, how aggressive he was and how successful. And then they just started to pile up and you wanted to see him do the 40-40 thing. He got the toughest one out of the way; that was the home runs. It was just a matter of time before he stole a base."
After Soriano reached base, his teammates lined up along the dugout railing in anticipation. In the bullpen, closer Chad Cordero said, everyone was peering through the fence.
"Nobody wanted to miss it because it's not an everyday thing," Cordero said. "He wanted to get it really bad. When you saw that 2-0 count, that was the perfect situation for him to go. He got it and he took it."
Soriano's night overshadowed a lively game that included seven runs in the first two innings, a monstrous home run by Milwaukee's Prince Fielder, two triples by Washington's Bernie Castro and a respectable recovery by Nationals starter Pedro Astacio (4-5).
The Brewers took a 2-0 lead in their first at-bat when Fielder homered into the fourth row of the upper deck in right field. Washington quickly responded. Following Soriano's single and steal, Lopez reached on an infield hit. Ryan Zimmerman grounded into a fielder's choice, moving Soriano to third, and after Zimmerman stole second, Nick Johnson knocked in the first run with a groundout.
The Nationals tied it when Tony Graffanino could not make a play on Austin Kearns's grounder up the middle. Brian Schneider followed with a double to the right field corner, scoring Kearns and extending his hitting streak to 10.
It took only two batters for the Brewers to tie it at 3 as Corey Hart reached on an infield hit and David Bell brought him in with a double off the left field wall.
From there, however, Astacio, who had allowed six earned runs in 2 1/3 innings in his previous start, found his rhythm and retired 12 in a row before getting into trouble in the sixth.
Before that, though, the Nationals grabbed the lead in the second inning and extended it in the fourth.
Nook Logan got it started with a bunt single, moved to second on Astacio's sacrifice and then attempted to steal third. Screened by the batter Soriano, Rivera sent his throw into left field and Logan trotted home.
In the fourth, Schneider scored on Castro's first triple. Astacio's evening ended in the sixth when the Brewers cut it to 5-4, but the Nationals padded their lead when Zimmerman tripled, Kearns doubled, Schneider supplied a sacrifice fly and Castro tripled again.
This night, though, belonged to Soriano.
"It's very amazing for me because there's a lot of players that can play this game," he said. "It's amazing numbers and very difficult."
Added Robinson: "I'm sure he's glad to get it out of the way. He can focus on 50-50 now."