Juan Soto took his city’s history of postseason heartbreak, rolled it up and threw it in the trash
They all thought it was happening again. Down 3-1 to the Brewers in the eighth inning of the NL Wild Card Game on Tuesday night, Nationals fans were feeling pretty down.
"Here we go again," they thought early in the night, a collective pall resonating through the stands as Milwaukee jumped out to an early 2-0 lead on Max Scherzer. This was the scene a mere handful of pitches into the game:
This, from a team that hadn't won a postseason series in its 15-year existence -- even with one of the best players in baseball -- always either collapsing in tragic fashion or simply being outmatched, would have felt heartbreakingly familiar. To be a Nationals fan is to know, and expect, the crushing weight of October despair. They’ve never, ever made it out of the first round: 2012, 2014, 2016 or 2017, always the same result.
But these Nats have something the Nats of old never did: a 20-year-old phenom by the name of Juan Soto, who came up in the eighth inning with the bases loaded and two outs, Washington trailing, 3-1.
It's important to note Soto's youth. He's basically a kid, and one whose mom made him breakfast before he embarked on the most important game of his life hours later:
Juan Soto says the only difference between today and a regular season game is that his mom is in town for the postseason so she cooked him breakfast.— Hannah Keyser (@HannahRKeyser) October 1, 2019
The postseason is its own world, one in which nothing that happened during the regular season matters. All context and previous frustrations are stripped away, the slate wiped clean. Any player can do anything at any time. In Soto's case, it allowed him the opportunity to step into the role of Nationals savior ... and he was ready for the spotlight.
Facing fearsome Brewers lefty Josh Hader, he of the wild delivery and 100-mph fastballs and imposing demeanor on the mound, Soto had his work cut out for him. If Hader won the battle, the Nats would be down to their final three outs, opportunity wasted, staring down the imposing threat of another postseason cut short.
Soto, however, wrote his own entry in the Nats' history book with one swing:
Just like that, the narrative was flipped on its head. The Nats -- perennial postseason punchlines always expected to fail when it mattered most -- had broken through, turning around what otherwise seemed destined for yet another cruel update in their volume of October horror stories.
The fans, who were overcome with concern and frustration mere hours earlier, were now euphoric, caught up in the moment of seeing the face of the franchise come through in the biggest, most pressure-packed moment of his young life.
Soto was picked off between second and third base after rounding the bag a bit too aggressively. Riding on adrenaline, he let his emotion carry him a bit too far off the second-base bag, but it hardly mattered.
The moment was his.
THEY DON'T CALL IT THE MILD CARD, FAM. pic.twitter.com/bW4MknRhgs— Cut4 (@Cut4) October 2, 2019
Three outs later, the Nats had won, effectively exorcising a demon years in the making.
And this was a moment 95 years in the making. Seriously.
No team from Washington had won any round of the postseason in a mere 95 years...since the Senators won the 1924 World Series!— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) October 2, 2019
Before the 2019 season, the Nationals were Bryce Harper's team. But he's gone now, having skipped town for the Phillies, ending an era and paving the way for a new one.
Soto, who played alongside Harper during his rookie season in '18, was poised, along with fellow young outfielder Victor Robles, to take the Nats to a place Harper never could -- and with his game-changing, legend-building moment in the Wild Card Game, he did just that.
He made his dad the proudest father in the world, too.