There were any number of reasons the Nationals lost to the Braves on Wednesday night, and any number of ways they could have made up for those reasons and actually pulled off an impressive comeback that would’ve changed the entire outlook of this critical series.
But the primary focus from many corners afterward was on Juan Soto’s sixth-inning ejection, so it’s worth revisiting that sequence, as well as all the principal participants’ postgame comments.
In the bottom of the fourth, Soto was called out by Greg Gibson looking at a 3-2 pitch on the lower, inside corner. It was a borderline pitch, but MLB’s pitch tracking system did show it hitting exactly on the corner.
Soto expressed some frustration in the moment, but nothing to warrant a response from Gibson. It wasn’t until he came back up to bat two innings later that sparks flew.
Only moments after Bryce Harper had circled the bases following a leadoff homer, Soto stepped into the batter’s box and as he moved the dirt around with his feet and stared at the ground brought up the final pitch from that prior at-bat to Gibson.
“Just: ‘The pitch before was a ball,’” Soto said when asked what he said in the moment. “Make sure he can understand and be better, and help him help us.”
Gibson took off his mask and appeared to ask Soto to repeat what he just said. The two went back and forth for a few seconds, after which the veteran umpire ejected the 19-year-old slugger.
“Basically the reason he was ejected is he came up and he was discussing his at-bat before that,” crew chief Jerry Layne told a pool reporter afterward. “And it specifically states that it’s a no-no to go in and look at pitches (on video) 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.”
Soto, who said this was the first time he had ever been ejected from a baseball game in his life, was asked if he said anything different to Gibson than he has said previously to other umpires.
“No,” the rookie responded. “I just try to be the same guy with all these guys.”
Manager Davey Martinez quickly came out of the dugout to engage in his own conversation with Gibson, as base coaches Tim Bogar and Bob Henley helped escort Soto back to the dugout before he said or did anything else that might get himself in trouble.
Martinez was spared ejection, but a minute or so later Gibson ejected hitting coach Kevin Long, who was yelling from the top step of the dugout.
“I didn’t think it was appropriate for him to throw (Soto) 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.”
This, of course, raised an obvious question: Is a 19-year-old rookie not given the kind of leeway to complain to an umpire that a more experienced big leaguer gets?
“It’s hard to say,” Martinez said. “I can honestly tell you I’ve played this game a long time, had a lot of at-bats. I’ve told umpires in the past: ‘Hey, my last at-bat, that pitch was a ball.’ And they would just say: ‘I’ll take a look at it.’ If they say that, that’s all you can do.”
Soto’s ejection did prove costly to the Nationals. Michael A. Taylor replaced him, and though he did single up the middle in his initial sixth-inning at-bat, he struck out with runners in base in both the seventh and ninth innings.
How, then, did the Nationals feel like Soto handled himself a situation most of them have found themselves in at some point along the way?
“It’s bad on both sides,” Harper said. “I think it just caught up with some people. I don’t know if Soto is the one to talk back, cause we do need him in the lineup. It’s frustrating, it’s definitely frustrating. But nothing we can do.”