Gibson leaned in and asked Soto to repeat himself. Soto did, in a subdued manner. He wasn’t angry. He didn’t raise his voice. Gibson promptly ejected Soto anyway with the Nationals facing a 7-2 deficit in their eventual 8-3 loss in a pivotal National League East matchup.
The decision provoked a more animated discussion between the umpire and the 19-year-old left fielder, who was then pushed aside by Manager Dave Martinez. Soto continued offering his opinion until third base coach Bob Henley and first base coach Tim Bogar pulled him back. Soto, the Nationals best hitter since getting called up, walked off the field. It was the first ejection of his life, at any level. It caught the rookie of the year front-runner, and his team, by surprise.
“I didn’t think he was going to toss me out,” Soto said.
Asked if he told Gibson something he hasn’t told other umpires in his 69-game major league career, Soto said no.
“I just try to be the same guy with all these guys,” Soto said.
After the game, crew chief Jerry Layne, speaking for Gibson, confirmed Soto was tossed for arguing balls and strikes from the previous at-bat. Asked if Soto used any expletives, Layne said the league would comment on that. Asked if Gibson had issued a warning, Layne said he didn’t know if Gibson had but he didn’t need to and repeated the league would comment further.
“Basically, the reason he was ejected is he came up and he was discussing his at-bat before that,” Layne said. “And it specifically states that it’s a no-no to go in and look at pitches and then come out and argue on top of that. Plus, on top of arguing balls and strikes in itself. So, that’s what got him in trouble.”
Hitting coach Kevin Long also was tossed. Long was barking at Gibson from the top step of the Nationals’ dugout with several others also shouting onto the field. Martinez stayed to plead his case to Gibson and Layne, but wasn’t ejected. It was Long’s second ejection his season. That’s one more than the manager.
Neither club was pleased with Gibson’s strike zone up to that point. Both center fielders — Bryce Harper and Ronald Acuna Jr. — struck out looking at pitches they believed were balls. Strike zone technology suggests they were.
A strike-zone discipline extraordinaire, Soto expressed his frustration with Gibson in the previous at-bat, but Gibson didn’t engage extensively. He did in the sixth inning, however, and ended Soto’s night.
I wanted to “make sure he can understand and be better and help him help us,” Soto said.
Gibson’s decision potentially cost Washington runs. Michael A. Taylor, Soto’s replacement, singled upon his ejection in the sixth inning, but struck out twice in his final two at-bats — in the seventh inning with two on and one out, and again to end the game with a runner on first. Whether Soto’s presence would’ve made a difference is a hypothetical that will remain unanswered, but the Nationals thought the budding star, whose .984 OPS leads the Nationals, should’ve gotten the chance.
“I didn’t think it was appropriate for him to throw him out in that situation like that,” Martinez said. “He could’ve said, ‘Hey, that’s enough. Get in the box.’ But I’m not Gibby. I’m not going to speak for him.”