WASHINGTON -- Marlins manager Don Mattingly did not feel like he had much of a choice the night before. With two on and the winning run in scoring position on Friday, he allowed Ryne Stanek to pitch to Anthony Rendon with first base open. The alternative: Give Rendon a free pass, and pitch to Juan Soto with the bases loaded. Pick your poison.
It was an unenviable position, one Mattingly agreed reminded him of the choice teams faced when pitching against the Red Sox in the mid-2000s -- Manny Ramirez or David Ortiz. That’s how dangerous the combination of Rendon and Soto has become in the middle of this Nationals lineup.
“Those two right there together are a tough combo to get through,” Mattingly said after the Nationals' 7-0 victory on Saturday night over the Marlins. “Both really good hitters, both put the ball in play, use the whole field. I mean, those two are a handful.”
They were a handful at Nationals Park, continuing their onslaught of opposing pitching staffs. In the first inning, Rendon and Soto each belted his 30th home run of the season, on back-to-back blasts. They became just the second pair of Nationals teammates to hit 30 homers in a season and first since 2009, when Adam Dunn (38) and Ryan Zimmerman (33) did so.
Rendon and Soto combined to go 4-for-7 with three homers, four RBIs and five runs in the game.
“They can beat you in many ways,” Nats manager Dave Martinez said. “They can both hit the long ball, but they both hit doubles. They can go the other way. They can take their walks. Those two guys, 3-4, they’re probably one of the best in baseball.”
Rendon opened the scoring by working a nine-pitch at-bat against Marlins starter Pablo Lopez, ending with him depositing a fastball over the heart of the plate into the left-field seats. The ball had barely landed when Soto followed him by launching an 0-1 changeup over the left-field fence.
“The most fun part of it is I get to see the homer from the on-deck circle,” Soto said. “It's amazing how that guy -- he just can hit, this guy can hit.”
Rendon would add another solo homer in the eighth inning, increasing his career-high total to 31 on the season. He has reached base safely in 16 straight games, batting .439 during that span.
Soto’s homer was also notable because it made him just the seventh player in MLB history to reach 30 home runs in their age 20-or-younger season, joining a list that includes Mel Ott (1929), Ted Williams ('39), Frank Robinson ('56), Tony Conigliaro ('65), Alex Rodriguez ('96) and Mike Trout (2012).
Soto and Rendon are both putting together special seasons in their own regards; Rendon establishing himself among baseball’s elite with a career year just a few weeks shy of hitting free agency, and Soto putting together a year few players his age have ever equaled.
Their consecutive homers in the first inning marked the ninth time this season Nationals hitters have gone back-to-back, but according to the Elias Sports Bureau, Rendon and Soto are the first pair of teammates in Major League history to hit back-to-back home runs, with each home run being a player’s 30th, 40th or 50th home run that season.
"I think you got two guys there who have exceptional plate discipline,” said Nats starter Stephen Strasburg, who struck out a season-high-tying 14 batters over eight innings. “They don't swing at bad pitches and they have great approaches. They grind on you, and they can also hit the ball out of the yard. It's hard to really find that kind of combination from the both of them to where they'll do what's needed every single time. It's fun to watch."