WASHINGTON– Down two runs with two outs in the bottom of the eighth, the Nationals stayed in the fight during last night’s Wild Card round win against the Milwaukee Brewers.
The comeback seemed impossible against one of the league’s best relievers in Josh Hader. According to the Elias Sports Bureau the Nationals had a 0.050% chance at coming back down after as Michael A. Taylor stepped up to the plate with two outs in the eighth. A hit by pitch off of Michael A. Taylor’s hand started the near-impossible rally. Then, broken bat pinch-hit single from Ryan Zimmerman. Impending free agent Anthony Rendon then drew a clutch 3-2 walk. The stage was set for the 20-year-old Domincan-born Juan Soto.
After swinging-and-missing on re-signing Bryce Harper over the off-season, the Nationals replaced Harper’s bat with Soto, who burst on the scene last season in May after spending just a mere two weeks at Double-A Harrisburg.
All Nationals fans knew that Harper was able to hit in clutch situations. Harper hit a few clutch home runs against the Giants in the 2014 NLDS and a game-tying homer against the Cubs in the 2017 NLDS but in these waters, Soto was untested. Sure, Soto had hit a few game-tying and game-winning homers in the regular season but he had never done in on the big stage in October.
The offense was dead throughout the night, only mustering a single run on a Trea Turner home run in the third inning. The two runs the Nationals were down for the majority of the game seemed like five.
The Brewers scored all their runs in the first three innings against a shaky Max Scherzer start. After a rough September where he sported an ERA over 5.00 and an ERA over 4.50 after being activated off the Injured List in August, Davey Martinez turned to Scherzer over Stephen Strasburg who had been more dominant throughout the postseason chase.
The Brewers’ Yasmani Grandal took Scherzer deep in the first inning to the right field bullpen, driving in Trent Grisham who had reached base on a walk to open the ball game. First baseman Eric Thames also hit a low-and-outside curveball out of the park in the third inning putting the Nationals in a 3-0 hole early.
Nonetheless, the Nationals remained in the fight. Sure, it took eight innings for the offense to wake up but once Juan Soto stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the eighth in untested waters and delivered one of the biggest hits in Nationals history. In a 1-1 count, the young slugger lined a ball over the first baseman Eric Thames’ glove. It looked like the Nats were going to be able to tie the ball game but something fortunate finally went in the Nationals way during October: rookie right fielder Trent Grisham misplayed the ball allowing it to roll past him which allowed all three runners to score to put the Nats up 4-3. Soto tried for third but was thrown out but not before celebrating and yelling a few “Let’s F-ing Go!” a few times before he was officially tagged out.
Soto wasn’t the only hero on the night. After Scherzer gutted out five innings, allowing three runs and seven baserunners on 77 pitches, former No. 1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg came out of the bullpen for the first time since his freshman year of college.
When he was taken first overall in 2010, he was expected to be the guy to get the Nationals get over the hump and take the ballclub to the promised land. Although, that hasn’t happened yet the former prized prospect stepped up during a crucial time for the Nationals.
Strasburg was electric out of the bullpen throwing three crucial innings innings and striking out four and only threw 34 pitches which could allow him to be available to start either Game One or Game Two of the NLDS. Daniel Hudson recorded the save for the Nationals pitching the ninth inning in front of a sold out D.C. crowd.
The Nationals will now take on the Dodgers in the NLDS with Game One taking place Friday night at 8:08 p.m.