HOUSTON -- Never wresting his eyes from the ball’s flight path, Juan Soto shifted the bat from his right hand to his left, then back to his right. For obvious reasons, he seemed reluctant to drop it.
That bat, a two-toned Old Hickory model, had just delivered one of the most impactful home runs in Nationals history, giving them a lead they would never relinquish in World Series Game 6 on Tuesday night. More than that, Soto’s hit came four innings after Alex Bregman hit a go-ahead home run of his own, carrying his bat all the way down the first-base line in celebration.
“I just thought it was pretty cool,” Soto said. “I wanted to do it.”
See homer, hit homer -- for the multitalented Soto, it often seems that easy. As he approached first base at a jog, Soto tossed his bat at the feet of coach Tim Bogar and rounded the bases unaccompanied. His home run was the go-ahead blast in a 7-2 win over the Astros in World Series Game 6, forcing a winner-take-all Game 7 Wednesday night at Minute Maid Park. Soto was not going to miss a chance for celebration.
“I just try to enjoy every homer,” Soto said. “It feels really good when you hit a homer in the World Series.”
In the opposite clubhouse, Bregman -- Soto’s muse -- was not feeling quite so proud of his accomplishment. He criticized himself for letting his emotions overcome him, saying: “It’s not how I was raised to play the game.” Bregman offered remorse for carrying his bat to first base to inspire Soto’s copycat act.
“I deserved it,” Bregman said. “It was my fault and I apologize for doing it. I shouldn’t have done it.
“It’s not what I'm about. I want to play team baseball and try and help this team win. I just got too excited and I apologize to their team, my teammates, everybody.”
An American League MVP Award candidate, Bregman authored the celebration after homering to give the Astros a first-inning lead against Stephen Strasburg. Carrying his bat all the way to first base, Bregman fumbled an attempt to hand it to first-base coach Don Kelly, finally dropping it after he was already past the bag. The precise coordinates of the bat didn’t matter much to the managers of each team, who criticized both players.
“He shouldn’t carry the bat past first base,” AJ Hinch said. “Soto shouldn't carry it to first base, either.”
“We didn’t like it,” echoed Dave Martinez. “And the fact that Soto did it, I’ll be quite honest with you, I didn’t like it when he did it, as well.”
Like it or not, the accomplishments were historic. Bregman’s home run gave him three in the Series, making him the youngest AL player to achieve that since Mickey Mantle in 1956. Soto, meanwhile, became the youngest to go deep thrice in a World Series in any context. Four days after his 21st birthday, he crushed his shot off Justin Verlander at 111.4 mph, making it the Nationals’ hardest postseason home run since Statcast began tracking in 2015. Soto also became the second player to homer off multiple former MVP Award winners in a single October, doing so against both Verlander and Clayton Kershaw.
So there was cause for celebration, even if the nature of that celebration came into question.
In an era in which bat flips are in vogue, in which Major League Baseball’s official postseason slogan is “We Play Loud,” the reality is that some players, fans and coaches prefer the opposite.
It’s a matter of taste, a matter of opinion.
“The game’s changing very quickly,” said Soto’s teammate, Adam Eaton. “Honestly, I don’t care what you do. This is the biggest stage in baseball. When there’s 40-something-thousand people and you hit a big home run in the World Series, you can do what you want.”