Birthdays are always exciting, but some can be more special than others. Nationals outfielder Juan Soto will celebrate his 21st in one of the most epic fashions imaginable on Friday -- when he plays in World Series Game 3 against the Astros, the first World Series game in Washington since 1933.
If Soto homers, he’ll be just the fourth player to hit a birthday home run in a postseason game, and the second to do that in the World Series. Kolten Wong hit a homer on his 25th birthday in Game 2 of the 2015 National League Division Series for the Cardinals, and Evan Longoria hit one on his 28th in Game 3 of the 2013 American League Division Series for the Rays. The only player to do it in the World Series was the Royals' Willie Aikens in Game 1 in 1980 -- when he hit two homers on his 26th birthday.
Soto made his Major League debut on May 20, 2018, and he's been wowing us ever since. To celebrate his birthday, here are 21 facts and figures.
1) Soto homered in his World Series debut in Game 1, when he was still 20 years old. He became the fourth-youngest player in postseason history to homer in the World Series, trailing only Miguel Cabrera, Andruw Jones and Mickey Mantle. He also became the second-youngest player to homer in his World Series debut, trailing only Jones.
2) Soto also had a stolen base in Game 1, becoming the youngest player in postseason history to homer and steal a base in the same game. The youngest had been Derek Jeter, at 22 years and 105 days old in Game 1 of the 1996 AL Championship Series.
3) Overall in Game 1, Soto had three hits, including two extra-base hits. He became the second-youngest player in World Series history with multiple extra-base hits in a game, trailing only 19-year-old Jones in Game 1 of the 1996 World Series -- two years before Soto was born.
4) Soto's three hits made him the fifth-youngest player in World Series history with three or more in a game. The 18-year-old Freddie Lindstrom had two such games in 1924, Jones had two in 1996, and Joe Garagiola had one in 1946 and Mickey Mantle one in 1952 -- both as younger 20-year-olds than Soto.
5) In Game 2, Soto hit a double, notching the sixth extra-base hit of his postseason career -- all of which have come this year. With six extra-base hits before turning 21, he tied Cabrera for most in a postseason career at 20 years old or younger.
6) In the seventh inning of Game 2, with the Nationals leading, 3-2, and runners on second and third with two outs, Ryan Pressly issued an intentional walk to Soto. The walk was notable for a few reasons. First of all, it was the first intentional walk by an Astros pitcher in 2019, including the regular season and postseason, certainly some measure of respect for the youngster. Second, it made Soto the second-youngest player to be intentionally walked in a World Series game. The only player younger was a 20-year, 46-day-old Claudell Washington for the A’s in Game 4 of the 1974 World Series.
7) Soto has hit cleanup in each of the first two games of the World Series -- something he has done through the entire postseason. He’s the third-youngest player to start at cleanup in a World Series, behind only Cabrera, who did so six times in 2003, and Ty Cobb, who did so five times in 1907. That’s a pretty short list.
Rest of the postseason
8) Including his World Series homer, Soto has three home runs this postseason -- all of which he hit before his birthday. The only player with more homers in the postseason before turning 21 is Cabrera, who hit four in 2003.
9) In the Nationals’ winner-take-all Game 5 in the NLDS at Dodger Stadium, Soto delivered with a game-tying solo homer off Clayton Kershaw in the top of the eighth, right after Anthony Rendon had gone yard. And it wasn’t just any home run -- it was a Statcast-projected 449-foot homer. That’s the longest of Soto’s career, and it also helped the Nationals pull off a road win to clinch the series.
10) The fact that the home run came off Kershaw was notable, too. At 20 years and 349 days old that day, Soto was the youngest player to hit a home run off Kershaw in Kershaw’s career, including the regular season and postseason.
11) That wasn’t Soto’s only clutch moment this postseason. In the NL Wild Card Game, which the Nats trailed, 3-0, after two innings, it was Soto’s hit off Milwaukee's Josh Hader in the bottom of the eighth that put the team ahead, in part due to Trent Grisham’s error in right field. At 20 years and 341 days old that night, Soto became the youngest player with a go-ahead hit in the eighth inning or later of a winner-take-all playoff game, according to Elias. The youngest was 21-year-old Edgar Renteria on his walk-off single for the Marlins in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series.
12) Soto finished the 2019 regular season with 56 career home runs. That’s tied with Tony Conigliaro for second most in Major League history before turning 21. The only player with more was Mel Ott, with 61.
13) Part of how Soto got to 56 career homers? His 34 this season certainly helped. Soto’s regular-season homers as a 20-year-old in 2019 were tied with Frank Robinson in 1956 for second most by a player in a season before turning 21. The only player with more was Ott, with 42 in 1929.
14) And of course, the other component to Soto's 56 home runs was his 22 in 2018. Soto tied Bryce Harper in 2012 for second most by a player in a single season as a teenager. The only teen with more was Conigliaro, with 24 in 1964.
15) One aspect of the game Soto has been quite good at is maintaining plate discipline. As a 19-year-old rookie in 2018, he had a 18.3 percent chase rate, which was ninth lowest of 143 Major Leaguers to see at least 1,000 out-of-zone pitches. It went slightly up in 2019 with increased exposure -- to 20.3 percent -- but Soto’s rank among his peers was still outstanding. He had the 14th-lowest chase rate this year out of 146 batters to see at least 1,000 out-of-zone pitches. As a 20-year-old.
16) More evidence of that plate discipline? All of the walks he draws. Soto has 12 career regular-season games with three or more walks. That’s three more such games than any other player before turning 21 on record (since 1908).
17) Soto walked 108 times in 2019, the second most in a season by a player 20 or younger. The only player that young with more walks in a season was Ott, with 113 in 1929. No other 20-year-old or younger had even 90 walks in a season.
18) Soto’s first start in the cleanup spot last year came on June 21, at 19 years and 239 days old. He was the youngest player to start at cleanup in a game since César Cedeño in 1970.
19) He ended up starting eight games in that spot in 2018, third most by any teenager in a single season on record. Rusty Staub started 35 games at cleanup in 1963, and Ott started 24 at that spot in 1928.
20) Soto hit two home runs at Yankee Stadium on June 13, 2018, at 19 years and 231 days old. He was the youngest player with a regular-season homer at any iteration of Yankee Stadium since Ken Griffey Jr. in 1989. If we include the postseason, he was the youngest since Jones in the 1996 World Series. Either way, quite a feat.
21) The circumstances around Soto’s Major League debut on May 20, 2018, and a game he played on June 18 will pretty much always be worth recounting. Soto debuted on May 20 at Nationals Park against the Dodgers, going 0-for-1 as a pinch-hitter. Pretty standard debut, not much worth talking about two years later. But five days earlier on May 15, the Nationals had been playing a game at Nationals Park against the Yankees when it began to rain. The game was suspended and set to be made up on June 18. Simultaneously on May 15, the Double-A Harrisburg Senators -- Soto’s team at the time -- were dealing with rain on the eastern seaboard as well. The Senators’ game at the Bowie Baysox originally scheduled for May 14 was suspended to the 15th, so they completed that game -- but were unable to complete the regularly scheduled game for the 15th, which was suspended and completed on the 16th.
When a game is suspended, stats for that game count for the date of the original scheduling -- in both the Minors and Majors. That’s important here.
Soto, still in Double-A, played in those games. In the game on the 16th -- technically the second time the Senators took the field on the 16th, for the regularly scheduled game -- he homered. On the same day, his team finished a game that had counted for the 15th, in which he went 3-for-4.
By the time the Nats and Yanks resumed their game in June, Soto was up with the team. Naturally, he played in the game -- and, of course, he homered. If you look at any record book, he’s listed as both going 3-for-4 for Harrisburg and 1-for-2 with a homer for the Nationals on May 15 -- a day when in reality, his team played only one game ... and it was a resumption of a game from May 14.
Confused? It isn’t exactly simple. But the fact is this: Soto managed to hit a home run in a Major League game that counts for May 15, five days before his Major League debut of May 20. Quite the claim to fame.