July 23: Opening Day
Washington began its World Series title defense at home against the New York Yankees, without fans in the stands and before an ESPN audience. The Nationals raised a championship flag and pennant before the game and invited Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, to throw the ceremonial first pitch. Donning a Nationals World Series champion face mask, Fauci stood at the front of the mound and gave new meaning to the phrase flattening the curve, bouncing a throw short and well wide of Sean Doolittle, who was crouched behind home plate. Fauci’s errant offering portended the Nationals’ season to come.
Aug. 4: Juan Soto dances on the dugout
A few hours before Washington’s first game, Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo announced that Juan Soto, the team’s 21-year-old star, had tested positive for the coronavirus. Soto, who never showed symptoms, believed he received a false positive result and was cleared to play under MLB’s protocols after receiving back-to-back negative test results, but he missed Washington’s first eight games while awaiting approval to return from the D.C. health department. Soto wasn’t in the lineup after finally being activated Aug. 4, but he showed his excitement to be back by dancing on the home dugout at Nationals Park to celebrate a home run by Josh Harrison.
Aug. 12: Soto nearly hits a ball out of Citi Field
Soto collected two hits in his 2020 debut and homered in this third game back against the Orioles. Two days later, he crushed a 463-foot home run to center field at Citi Field. It was the longest home run of Soto’s career and farther than any Mets player had hit a ball in the ballpark since at least 2015. Soto outdid himself a couple of nights later, sending a first-inning pitch from New York’s Robert Gsellman 466 feet onto the concourse above the second deck in right field. Soto hit a second home run later in the game.
“When I look up, again I just want to see how far it lands,” Soto said afterward. “It feels good.”
Aug. 13: Stephen Strasburg gets ejected … while arguing balls and strikes from the stands
Strasburg made only two starts before undergoing surgery to relieve carpal tunnel neuritis in his right hand in August, but the reigning World Series MVP still made his mark on an unusual season. In a scene that could only unfold in 2020, with cardboard cutouts replacing fans in the crowd, Strasburg was ejected by home plate umpire Carlos Torres for arguing balls and strikes from the stands at Citi Field.
Strasburg, who was unhappy with a third-inning pitch by teammate Austin Voth that was called a ball, tipped his cap to Torres after standing up to make his way out of the seating area.
“He got thrown out as a fan,” Nationals Manager Dave Martinez said after the game. “I love Stephen. I can’t tell you what he said, but I love him.”
Aug. 17: Soto takes Will Smith deep, stares him down
What’s a season without some bad blood between the Nationals and Braves? Soto had irked Smith by standing too close to home plate as the Atlanta reliever warmed up in the eighth inning. After Soto homered against Smith to lead off the ninth, he paused in the batter’s box to admire his blast, stared back at Smith and flipped his bat. Smith took exception and shouted profanities at Soto as he began his trot around the bases. Like many of the moments on this list, Soto’s home run came in an eventual loss, but it was satisfying at the time.
Aug. 25: Victor Robles turns a dazzling double play
Robles struggled mightily at the plate in 2020, hitting a paltry .220/.289/.315 with three home runs and 15 RBI. But his glove in center field was as good as ever. On Aug. 18, Robles made a leaping grab at Truist Park to take a home run away from the Braves’ Austin Riley. A week later, he made an incredible running catch on a line drive hit over his head by Phillies rookie Alec Bohm, then came to a stop on the warning track and unleashed a 288-foot throw to first base to double up Jean Segura.
Sept. 3: Trea Turner hits an inside-the-park home run
Turner’s grand slam and seven RBI in Sunday’s season finale capped a stellar season, which included 12 home runs, 12 stolen bases, 41 RBI, a .982 on-base-plus-slugging percentage and an MLB-best 78 hits. He had a 16-game hitting streak in August to raise his batting average to .377. Two days after it ended, Turner started another streak with a three-hit game at Citizens Bank Park, including his first inside-the-park home run. He initially seemed to think he had gotten enough of the ball for a traditional home run trot before turning on the jets as he approached first base.
Sept. 16: Luis García lifts Washington to an extra-inning win at Tampa Bay
The Nationals called up García in mid-August after placing Starlin Castro on the injured list with a broken right wrist. The 20-year-old wasted no time making an impression, notching a couple of hits in his big league debut. In his third career game, García made everyone feel a little bit older by becoming the first player born in the 2000s to hit a home run. His next homer came a month later, in the 10th inning of Washington’s 4-2 win over the Tampa Bay Rays. It was a no-doubter.
Sept. 22: Yadiel Hernandez walks off the Phillies
Hernandez, 32, who defected from Cuba in 2015, made his major league debut in September. In his seventh career game, he dealt a blow to Philadelphia’s playoff hopes and became the oldest player in MLB history to hit a walk-off for his first career home run. It was the season’s best moment at Nationals Park.
“I was extremely happy,” Hernandez said in Spanish through a team interpreter. “In reality, it never crossed my mind that I was going to end the game that way. I’ve always thought I was going to hit a home run at some point, because that’s part of my game. … I just didn’t foresee it happening in that moment."
Sept. 27: Soto clinches the batting title
Soto went 1 for 1 in Washington’s 15-5 win over the Mets on Sunday. He finished his third season with a .351 batting average in 47 games, becoming the youngest batting champion in National League history. Soto also led the league in on-base percentage (.490) and slugging percentage (.695), numbers not seen since Barry Bonds won his seventh MVP award in 2004.
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