Soto’s latest blast propels Nats to long-awaited win over Yanks (updated)

The visiting Yankees took the field first in their gray road uniforms, a reliever trotting from the dugout to the mound. The home Nationals, in their red alternate jerseys, sent Bryce Harper into the on-deck circle to lead off the bottom of the sixth inning of a game that began a month earlier.

And then a rookie outfielder who went 3-for-4 with an RBI for Double-A Harrisburg in a game played in Bowie on May 15 came up to bat at Nationals Park and launch the titanic home run that gave the Nats a 5-3 victory over the Yankees on a game that officially will have been played on that same day, five days before he officially made his major league debut.

Suffice it to say, the game that was just completed on South Capitol Street was as atypical as they get.

Thumbnail image for Soto-Swings-White-Nats-Sidebar.jpgAll that matters is this: Juan Soto’s two-run blast in the bottom of the sixth was the difference, propelling the Nationals to a much-needed victory over the Yankees in a game that began last month but had to be suspended with the score tied 3-3 in the middle of the sixth due to heavy rain in the area.

It took exactly one hour to play the final three innings, with many in the crowd still arriving as the final out was recorded. The two teams still have a full, nine-inning game (the one that was postponed by continued rain on May 16) to play tonight, with first pitch coming up in precisely 30 minutes.

With three members of his lineup from the original game (Matt Adams, Howie Kendrick, Andrew Stevenson) unavailable to complete the game for various reasons, and three new regulars (Adam Eaton, Daniel Murphy, Soto) now available for various reasons, Davey Martinez had all kinds of options as the game resumed.

He wound up deciding in advance to have Soto take over for Adams, Brian Goodwin for Kendrick and Wilmer Difo for Stevenson.

“I kind of wrote it out like that,” Martinez said. “Then as the game plays out, it kind of progresses. But that’s how I envisioned it.”

He didn’t necessarily envision a titanic home run from Soto to get things started, though.

“No,” the manager said, “but I thought he had a good chance to hit the ball hard.”

With Adams still nursing a swollen left index finger after getting hit by a pitch Friday in Toronto, Martinez sent Soto to the plate with one on and one out in the bottom of the sixth. The Yankees already knew well what the 19-year-old was capable of doing, having just seen him launch two homers Wednesday night in the Bronx. But they were quickly reminded of it when the kid launched a 3-1 pitch from Chad Green deep into the second deck over the right field bullpen, territory previously reached by only a handful of sluggers.

Thus did Soto bend space and time in a manner befitting his otherworldly first month in the big leagues. The stat pages will forever show he hit a two-run homer in his first at-bat on May 15 - five days before he officially made his major league debut. No, this didn’t suddenly become his first career at-bat; Elias Sports confirmed as much this morning.

All that really mattered was that Soto’s blast - his sixth in a Nationals uniform - gave his team a 5-3 lead, affording the bullpen nine outs to try to wrap up the victory.

“When you play those games like that, you’ve got to try to come out and score first,” Martinez said. “That’s the biggest thing. And it worked out well. Then you can manage your bullpen. Those guys came in and did their job.”

Wander Suero, who had pitched a scoreless top of the sixth way back on May 15, remained in the game for the top of the seventh and struck out Giancarlo Stanton before surrendering a double to Gary Sánchez and getting pulled. Sammy Solís then got Didi Gregorius to line out to shallow left field, with Soto charging in to make the catch and then throwing back to second base to double up an oblivious Sánchez.

Ryan Madson got the top of the eighth, hoping to put behind Sunday’s rare, back-to-back homer performance in Toronto. And the veteran setup man did just that, stranding a pair of runners on base in a scoreless fame.

All that was left was for Sean Doolittle to finish it off, which the closer did in his typical, uneventful fashion. Doolittle retired Aaron Judge, Stanton and Sánchez in order in the ninth, securing his 18th save in 19 opportunities - even though he only had nine saves on his ledger when this particular game began.

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