HOUSTON -- Juan Soto danced in the middle of the visitors' clubhouse at Minute Maid Park. His teammates were pouring champagne and beer on his head, and for the first time in his career, Soto was able to celebrate with a beer in his hand, instead of the sparkling water
HOUSTON -- Juan Soto danced in the middle of the visitors' clubhouse at Minute Maid Park. His teammates were pouring champagne and beer on his head, and for the first time in his career, Soto was able to celebrate with a beer in his hand, instead of the sparkling water he used during the first four celebrations.
“I’m thankful to be celebrating this with my first beer with these guys,” said Soto, who turned 21 last week. “This is incredible.”
Soto’s age has dominated the conversation throughout the postseason, and for good reason. It’s unusual to see a player his age have the success that Soto has had. The Nationals outfielder played the entire regular season at 20 years old and didn’t turn 21 until Friday, which coincided with Game 3 of the World Series.
That precocity landed him the nickname “Childish Bambino” -- but as the postseason unfolded, the conversation slowly stopped revolving around Soto’s age. Instead, the talk was about how Soto is one of the most polished young players in the history of the game, and with the Nats’ 6-2 win over the Astros on Wednesday night in Game 7 at Minute Maid Park, Soto can now add “World Series champion” to his list of appellations.
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“It’s been something incredible and something really special,” Soto said. “Just to be here with this group of guys and just having fun playing the game, that has been special.”
When the Nationals called up Soto in 2018, they knew that he was a special talent. He was one of the top prospects in baseball, and everything pointed to him ultimately becoming a star. But maybe even the Nats couldn’t have expected the outfielder to reach stardom this quickly.
In his first full season in the Majors, Soto shined for the Nationals. The outfielder finished the regular season with 34 home runs, 110 RBIs and 4.7 Wins Above Replacement in 150 games. But as dominant as he was during the regular season, the postseason stage served as an opportunity for Soto to establish himself as one of the best players in the Majors.
With two more hits in Game 7, Soto finished with nine hits in the Fall Classic, matching Freddie Lindstrom and Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio for the third most World Series hits by a player younger than 22 in Major League history.
Soto’s 18 hits this postseason also matched Miguel Cabrera in 2003 for the most hits in a single postseason by a player younger than 22. With an RBI single on Wednesday, he joined Mickey Mantle as the only players to record an RBI in Game 7 of the World Series while being 21 or younger.
Soto’s performance in the World Series turned out to be historic, but somehow, none of it surprised his teammates.
“When they called him up [last season], I was like, 'Whoa,'” said Nats reliever Fernando Rodney. “His maturity at the plate. He has incredible discipline. But I haven’t seen him like this. Just really consistent and extremely confident of himself.”
The confidence was on full display during the postseason. Like he did all season, Soto shuffled and danced in the batter’s box after a take. He also showed some flair when he carried his bat all the way down the first-base line after hitting a home run against Justin Verlander in Game 6 of the World Series. While that created some debate, Soto was just enjoying success on the game’s biggest stage.
“You look at a 21-year-old kid that’s just out there having fun like he’s playing stickball in the backyard,” said Nationals manager Dave Martinez. “That’s who he is. He loves the moments. He loves going up there and picking up his teammates.”
After hitting three home runs and finishing with a 1.178 OPS in seven World Series games, Soto made a strong bid to become the youngest player to win the MVP Award in a World Series. But as that honor went to Stephen Strasburg, Soto is already thinking about bringing another championship to the nation’s capital.
“I’m going to celebrate the offseason with my family,” Soto said. “And next year, we have to do this again.”
Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @juanctoribio.