WASHINGTON -- The scoring of the play read like a Sudoku puzzle, one which ultimately stumped the Nationals.
“It wasn’t good,” manager Dave Martinez said following the 4-1 loss. “You’ve got to see the ball. You’ve got to run with your head up.”
Soto began the inning by doubling off the center-field wall. When Josh Bell grounded to the hot corner on the next at-bat, Soto attempted to advance to third. He was tagged out in a rundown between shortstop Francisco Lindor, third baseman Luis Guillorme and starting pitcher Taijuan Walker -- whose tag looked more like a tackle.
“I think at one point, Juan thought he had an obstruction call because their pitcher had the whole base blocked,” Martinez said. “At that particular moment when that happens, I think you have to either run him over or try to go around him. He’s got the right to catch the ball.”
But the play didn’t end there.
While Soto remained on the ground, Walker tried to nab Bell on his way to second. When Walker’s throw went wide into right field, Bell dashed to third. The issues were Soto was still lying in the basepath with his hands on the bag and right fielder Starling Marte was playing shallow enough to get the ball in quickly. With nowhere to go, Bell was tagged out by Lindor as traffic built up around the base.
“Honestly, from my vantage point, I was thinking I was going to score because I didn’t think Marte was going to be right there,” Bell said. “I thought there were going to be outfielders chasing that ball. So I was looking at Lindor, and I thought he was trying to deke me with holding his glove up.
“So I wasn’t really looking at Juan, I wasn’t looking at [third-base coach Gary DiSarcina]. I just saw the glove go up and when he caught it, I was like, ‘No way.’ And then I knew what happened. Juan wasn’t in the way for a slide. I was just out.”
Soto remained at third base discussing his baserunning with third-base umpire Tripp Gibson to clarify his intentions while the rest of the play progressed.
“I’m just trying to tell [Gibson] that [Walker] was in my way,” Soto said. “I tried to slide on it. I wasn’t trying to hurt him or anything like that. I’m not going to try to tackle him, so he’s got to give me room to at least slide on the base. He just told me, ‘Tough play, tough call.’”
The official scorer ruled that Bell reached on a fielder’s choice (5-6-1) and was retired advancing to third base (9-6).
The two outs had a bigger significance than just a head-scratching moment for the Nationals, though, who entered the game tied for fifth in the league in most outs on bases (OOB) with 11. Washington trailed 3-0 at the time, and Soto and Bell had the potential to put a pair of runners on base with no outs. Instead, the comeback attempt ended in the next at-bat when Nelson Cruz flew out to left field.
“It took us out of a big inning right there,” Martinez said. “We’re down. I think Juan’s got to see the ball through right there and hold off. I talked to him about it. J.B., once again, just trying to be overly aggressive. But those are two big mistakes. We had a chance with some of our big hitters up there to drive in some runs, and we ran into two outs.”
The Mets fed off of the momentum to take the series, 2-1.
“In that situation, we got a double play out of it and there was nobody on then,” Lindor said. “If we didn't execute it, there could have been one out and a guy on second or third. Every run counts. Getting those outs is huge."
The impact of the baserunning mishap proved costly by the ninth, when Soto’s two-out, two-strike solo home run off a 100.6 mph pitch from Edwin Díaz -- the fastest pitch Soto has homered off in his career -- came too late to make a dent in the deficit.
“When we make errors like that, it hurts the whole team,” said Soto. “It feels really bad.”