Meneses crushes 'special' walk-off after long journey

September 2nd, 2022

WASHINGTON -- Joey Meneses had watched Major Leaguers hit walk-off home runs on television, and he imagined what it would like feel to achieve that feat one day.

First, Meneses would have to grind his way through 10 seasons in the Minor Leagues. Second, he would have to maximize his opportunities for playing time as a 30-year-old rookie.

Only then could Meneses experience that celebratory thrill, as he crushed a three-run blast out to right-center field at Nationals Park on Thursday for the Nats’ 7-5 victory over the Athletics, their first walk-off win of the season.

“It’s something very special, my first walk-off in the Major Leagues,” Meneses said. “It’s something I am always going to remember.”

Trailing 5-3 in the bottom of the 10th, pinch-hitter Josh Palacios advanced automatic runner César Hernández from second base to third on a groundout against right-hander Norge Ruiz. Keibert Ruiz, also pinch-hitting, drove in Hernández with a single that barely made it through the right side of the infield, cutting the deficit to one run.

After Ildemaro Vargas struck out, Lane Thomas drew a walk to put runners on first and second, bringing the hot-hitting Meneses to the plate with two outs. Down 0-2, Meneses patiently evened the count before sending an 86.6 mph slider a Statcast-projected 389 feet out to right-center at 102.7 mph.

The Nationals had been 0-4 in walk-off games and 1-7 in extra innings this season. Their last walk-off victory came against the Mets on Sept. 6, 2021.

“You have our hottest hitter up at the plate,” said manager Dave Martinez. “He chased a ball out of the zone. But I said, ‘If he gets the ball down in the zone, where he can hit it, he’ll hit it hard.' Sure enough, he hit and he stayed on the ball. That’s what I love about him, is he uses the whole field when he goes to hit.”

The victorious homer is another chapter in Meneses’ short yet already eventful time with the Nationals. Since being called up for his Major League debut on Aug. 2, Meneses has been a spark plug for a team that sent two of its top two sluggers, Juan Soto and Josh Bell, to the Padres on the day of Meneses’ promotion.

In his 25 games with the Nats, Meneses is batting .354 (35-for-99) with six doubles, seven homers, 15 RBIs, 18 runs and four walks. Meneses’ hit total is the most by any Nationals rookie in their first 25 contests (2005-present), a mark previously set by Anthony Rendon with 32 in 2013. 

“He’s the same guy no matter what,” said Martinez. “From the first inning to the last inning, he goes up there and he’s going to try to get a good pitch to hit and put a good swing on it.”

Although Meneses is new to the Majors, he has had a decorated international playing career that includes representing Mexico in the Olympics. He is carrying those high-level performances to the Nationals and setting an example on a team deep with developing players. 

“His damage is really staying in the middle of the field, going the other way,” said Martinez. “He’s crushing balls like that, especially with two strikes. I’m going to take that into consideration if I’m a young hitter and say, ‘Man, I’ve got to stay on the ball,’ and learn.”

Meneses shared his milestone accomplishment with his teammates as they rushed onto the field (and later soaked him with a Gatorade shower) and a ballpark of roaring fans, who have been cheering “Jo-ey! Jo-ey!” almost nonstop for the past month. 

And still, as he rounded the bases and soaked in the energy and the scene, there was a personal pause for reflection.

“It is something very significant for me,” Meneses said. “Many years trying to be in the big leagues, many years working hard for this moment.”