PHILADELPHIA - Juan Soto knew what pitch was coming. And he hit it out of Citizens Bank Park.
With the game on the line, the 20-year-old connected on a splitter from Phillies closer Héctor Neris and slammed a line drive well over the left-center field wall. The two-out, two-run shot came on the first pitch from Neris in the top of the ninth inning and was Soto’s 16th of the season.
Down 3-0, the Nationals rallied for stunning 4-3 comeback victory over the Phillies, thanks to Soto’s blast.
“I can’t say enough about him,” said Nationals manager Davey Martinez. “Being 20 and doing the things that he does and constantly wanting to learn more and more every day. I’m just glad that he’s on our team, I really am. The ball he hit, we told him, ‘Hey, you’ve got to get the ball up on Neris, he’s got a nasty split,’ and he got the ball up and juiced it.”
Suddenly, the Nationals have won 30 of their last 41 games, breaking the all-time record for best run in franchise history. They have won 17 of their last 21.
“I was looking for a split since I get in the box,” Soto said. “I wanted to hit against him because he got me a couple times with the split.”
When Soto noticed catcher J.T. Realmuto cheating by moving up closer to the plate, he knew Neris was going to challenge him with a splitter. So by moving up in the batter’s box, Soto got a better crack at the pitch.
“Just step two steps different,” Soto said. “I hit all the way in the back of the box. I just put myself right in front of the box because I’m looking for the split.”
It was his second go-ahead homer for the Nats in the ninth inning or later and the third of his career - all of them coming in Philadelphia. The last time was April 9, when he hit a 10th-inning homer to put the Nats ahead for good in a 10-6 victory.
“He hang it and he throw right down the middle,” Soto said. “For me, I just make adjustment. I just step in the front of the box. I was just looking for that one. Maybe that’s why I see it just a little bit more hanging and I hit it.”
With two outs, Anthony Rendon singled to left field. That set up the opportunity for Soto to pull off the crushing blow. Soto pounded his chest as he rounded the bases and the dugout erupted. For only the second time in 37 games, the Nats had come back from a ninth-inning deficit to win.
“That feels amazing,” Soto. “That feels amazing when you try to help your team the most you can and you know you’ve got a good pitcher on the mound and you’re fighting with that team, it’s all the emotions coming out.”
Did Soto know it was out?
“Uh, yeah. I hit it so hard,” Soto said.
In the bottom of the ninth, Sean Doolittle recorded his 20th save, but it was not easy, and his velocity was down around 91-92 mph. He allowed a single to Maikel Franco with one out, then managed to record the final two outs to end the game. Doolittle noticed on the board his velocity was a tick down.
“Yeah, it was like that last night too,” Doolittle said. “I’m not exactly sure why it’s down. I know from past experience not to panic if I see the 91, 92 mph. I feel pretty good. Everybody gets a little bit tired around this point of the season. But if I stay in my mechanics and I don’t try to overthrow, I still can get that life and deception on my fastball and I can, like tonight, still navigate innings and get guys out.
“These last two nights, I have been really pleased with how I have been able to manage my energy level kind without maybe my best fastball.”
Patrick Corbin fought hard to stay in the game. But the Nationals were unable to get anything sustained despite many opportunities against Aaron Nola.
Corbin pitched six innings, allowing three runs on six hits with two walks and 10 strikeouts. It marks Corbin’s second straight 10-plus strikeout game and fourth in 2019. It is the first time he has gone back-to-back with 10-strikeout performances since 2013 when he did so July 7 against Colorado and July 12 versus Milwaukee.
Wander Suero (2-4) recorded two outs in the eighth to earn the win. The Nationals go for the sweep Sunday with Aníbal Sánchez to the hill.
“Good comeback win,” Martinez said. “Corbin kept us in the game. And I talk about that all the time: Our starting pitchers, they keep us in the game. Our offense seems to keep plugging away, they don’t quit. So we did that tonight. Our bullpen was really, really good tonight as well, they did a great job.”