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Youngest MLBer sends Nats to dramatic win

20-year-old rookie smashes 10th-inning HR off Rays closer for victory in finale
@jessicacamerato
September 16, 2020

Worry about playing on the biggest stage as the youngest player in the Major Leagues at age 20? No, that’s not the case for Nationals rookie Luis García. Proof? How about pummeling a game-winning, Statcast-estimated 427-foot home run to beat the Rays, 4-2, in the 10th inning on Wednesday afternoon

Worry about playing on the biggest stage as the youngest player in the Major Leagues at age 20?

No, that’s not the case for Nationals rookie Luis García.

Proof? How about pummeling a game-winning, Statcast-estimated 427-foot home run to beat the Rays, 4-2, in the 10th inning on Wednesday afternoon at Tropicana Field.

Box score

“He has no fear,” manager Dave Martinez said. “Testament right there -- he didn’t think of anything. You kind of try to guide him on what to expect and what to do, and he goes out there and does his best. It was a big pick-me-up for us.”

Starting pitcher Austin Voth was in line for his first win of the season when the Nats took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning. But Daniel Hudson allowed a game-tying home run to Brandon Lowe with two outs, sending the game into extras for his second straight appearance.

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Then, in walked the García to lead off the 10th with automatic runner Carter Kieboom on second base. Martinez told García that instead of having him advance Kieboom to third with a bunt, he had confidence in the youngster to be ready for the first pitch and prepare for a fastball. García took advantage of Rays closer Nick Anderson’s mislocation of a 94 mph first-pitch four-seamer.

“He was probably sitting fastball or something, and I just missed my spot and he got a hold of it,” Anderson said, adding, “It’s the big leagues. If you miss your spot, somebody usually hits it. It’s bound to happen.”

The second baseman has been gearing up for moments like this since he began playing baseball at 5 years old. He and his father would discuss how the game “got too big” for some players once they reached the Major League level. García’s father instilled a sense of confidence in the young, aspiring athlete so that wouldn’t happen when he got there.

“We would talk about the fact that it was weird -- I guess, to say it that way -- that that’s where you want to be, and yet at the same time, you’re a little afraid of that moment,” García said. “And it shouldn’t be that way.”

García began this season as the Nationals' No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline, with an estimated Major League arrival of 2021. But when Starlin Castro broke his wrist, García made his debut on Aug. 14 and stepped into the role of the everyday second baseman.

While becoming the first player born in the 2000s to hit a home run on Aug. 17, García has been navigating big league at-bats for the first time in his career. He went through a stretch of four hitless games to end August, but he's bounced back by entering Wednesday 13-for-40 in his last 11 games.

Martinez emphasizes understanding the strike zone to García, who likes to be aggressive at the plate. He believes García has the potential to hit “15, 20 home runs regularly” when he begins using his legs more to pair with his quick hands.

“It’s a learning process for him,” Martinez said. “I tell him right now, ‘I want you to just focus on just hitting the ball in the middle of the field. That’s who you are; you’re a doubles guy. If you happen to get a hold of one, you’re going to hit it far.' That’s what he did today.”

García said he was happy to help the Nationals win, however he can. On Wednesday, it was by recognizing the opportunity, being ready for it -- and attacking.

“I said, ‘What was that pitch?’” Martinez recounted. “He’s finally learning. He responded, 'That was a homer pitch.'”

Jessica Camerato covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @jessicacamerato, Facebook and Instagram.