NEW YORK — A stunned hush overtook the ballpark in the Bronx for a few moments Wednesday as Juan Soto coolly trotted around the bases, almost too coolly for a 19-year-old rookie on his sport’s grandest stage for the first time. He had just launched a baseball 436 feet, beyond the visitors’ bullpen. He had launched himself into Yankee Stadium lore, leaving the 45,030 in attendance, perhaps sensing the magnitude of the events they had witnessed from the only teenager on the diamond, silent.
With the blast, Soto became the youngest player to hit two home runs in a game at Yankee Stadium since Andruw Jones hit two in the old ballpark in Game 1 of the 1996 World Series. Soto is the fifth-youngest player in history to hit multiple home runs in a game anywhere. The efforts, which produced four RBI, combined with four scoreless innings from the Washington Nationals’ bullpen to fuel a 5-4 win over the New York Yankees.
“I’ll start off by saying Soto’s really good,” Nationals Manager Dave Martinez said. “How’s that?”
Soto’s first home run was an opposite-field fly that just crept over the left field wall, a three-run shot that put the Nationals up, 4-3. That poke illustrated Soto’s mature-beyond-his-years hitting approach. Players his age usually try to turn on a fastball up and away — and they’re usually making that mistake in the low minors. Soto went with the pitch from right-hander Sonny Gray and capitalized on the ballpark’s hitter-friendly dimensions to inject some life into his ballclub, which had scored one run over the previous 22 innings. It was the left-handed hitter’s first career home run off a right-handed pitcher.
“I was surprised [that it was a home run], yeah,” Soto, the youngest player in the majors, said. “Because I hit it pretty good but too high so I was running the bases saying, ‘Keep going, keep going, keep going.’ So when it was gone I felt very good. “
The second display was pure power. He took a fat 1-0 fastball over the plate from left-hander Chase Shreve and crushed it. Thus, the hush. The Nationals had a lead again and Soto, starting in left field after a day off Tuesday, had his fifth home run in 20 major league games.
“He’s the truth,” Nationals reliever Justin Miller surmised.
Soto’s exploits erased the Nationals’ early shoddiness, the kind that usually gives clubs no chance of a win when facing the team with the best record in baseball. Held scoreless since the seventh inning Saturday, Washington appeared poised to bust out with a crooked number in the first inning Wednesday with two runners on base and none out for Bryce Harper, who started in center field for the second time in four games.
But the Nationals managed just one run — on Anthony Rendon’s sacrifice fly — and were even more wasteful in the second inning. Washington repeated the situation in the second frame, putting two runners on before recording an out, and their first two baserunning blunders abruptly halted any chance of a big inning.
The initial mistake wasn’t egregious; Wilmer Difo hit a line drive directly to the second baseman, who then quickly threw Matt Adams out at second base for a double play. Adams didn’t stand much of a chance. Moments later, Gray picked Soto off at first base. Suddenly, the inning was over.
Eaton continued the theme in third inning, getting thrown out at second base trying to extend a single down the left field line. He was thrown out by a few feet. Next, Trea Turner singled to center field only to be picked off at first base by Gray. After a replay review of more than three minutes, the call was upheld, and the Nationals had run themselves out of another inning.
“We talked about it already,” Martinez said. “We need to clean that up, we really do. If we’re going to do the things we want to do, we can’t give teams two, three, four outs like that. We can’t. It was addressed. I want them to be aggressive, but we’ve got to be aggressive smart.”
The sloppiness bled into Washington’s defense to the bottom of the frame, when Rendon couldn’t handle a hard-hit chopper off Giancarlo Stanton’s bat. The ball skipped by him into left field. Instead of the third out, the Yankees (43-20) had their third run as Aaron Judge scored on what was ruled a single to give the Yankees a 3-1 lead against Erick Fedde.
The Nationals were being outclassed. Then, after Murphy walked and Adams singled, their wunderkind stepped into the batter’s box with two outs and flipped the switch, lifting a 1-0 fastball to left that carried far enough to give Washington a lead.
Yankees second baseman Gleyber Torres, himself just 21 years old, responded with a solo homer off Fedde, who allowed four runs over five innings starting for the injured Stephen Strasburg. That knotted the game at 4. From there, three Nationals relievers — Miller, Sammy Solis, and Ryan Madson — held the Yankees scoreless until Soto added another chapter to his astounding 25-day major league career in the seventh inning.
“For him to go out there,” Martinez said, “and do what he did today, in front of this crowd, it tells you a little bit about the character that he brings.”
These past two days were billed as soon-to-be-free-agent Harper’s return to Yankee Stadium, where Harper, once the Nationals’ last teenage star, could call home after this season. But Soto snatched the show, stunned a crowd, and won the Nationals a game.