Soto hears 'M-V-P' chants after electrifying Yankee Stadium again

April 20th, 2024

NEW YORK -- whipped his bat and felt the sweet kiss of ball against barrel, allowing himself a moment to admire a drive destined for the right-field seats. Looking toward the dugout, he flipped his bat and shouted, inviting his teammates to strap in and enjoy the ride.

The “Soto Show” continues to provide must-watch theater nightly in the Bronx, where the superstar has been better than advertised. Soto’s three-run homer highlighted a five-run outburst as the Yankees rallied for a 5-3 victory over the Rays on Friday night at Yankee Stadium.

“It’s just great,” Soto said. “Like I’ve said before, we feel like family right now. We really stick together, and they really enjoy my success.”

Soto received a standing ovation and chants of “M-V-P!” from fans in the seats as he took his defensive position in the eighth inning. It is no stretch to imagine the 25-year-old claiming those honors at season’s end, but for now, Soto said it is “way too early.”

“But definitely, it feels great,” Soto said. “They really support me, day in and day out. It just feels amazing.”

Several Yankees remarked that the crowd seemed to take on playoff intensity on a chilly, clear evening. The frenzied celebration of Soto represented another lovefest from an audience that makes no secret of its desire to keep the pending free agent in the Bronx long-term.

“Sign the dotted line, however much he wants,” said Yankees pitcher Clarke Schmidt. “It’s like he always comes through. It’s very rare to see a player of that caliber.”

Soto is batting .347 with five homers and 20 RBIs through his first 20 games as a Yankee, and he said that the experience has been “incredible.”

“My expectations were to be in first place by this time and try to hold it all the way to the end,” Soto said.

Though the Yankees were well aware of Soto’s reputation for power and patience at the plate, they have been pleasantly surprised by his defense, an area of his game that did not generate plaudits in previous stops with the Nationals and Padres.

Soto contributed a leaping grab in the third inning, robbing Richie Palacios of an extra-base hit. He said his glovework was an area of focus coming into this all-important campaign.

“People started talking about [that] I can’t play defense,” Soto said. “I think I can be out there and try to help my team as much as I hit [with] defense, too. Mainly, it’s just to try to win more games, to try to get more chances to help my pitchers to get out of the innings.”

Said Schmidt: “It’s just another good example of how good a player he is. [It’s a] new stadium, getting a feel for it in the first few series, but now he’s very comfortable out there making a play on the wall like that. He’s just fun to watch.”

After Palacios, a Brooklyn product, provided the game’s first run with a sixth-inning homer off Schmidt, the Yanks took advantage of two errors to produce five unearned runs in the seventh, with second baseman Curtis Mead and first baseman Yandy Díaz committing miscues.

Oswaldo Cabrera’s run-scoring bouncer skipped past Díaz to tie the game, and Anthony Volpe snapped an 0-for-14 skid with a run-scoring single off Chris Devenski before Soto reached the second deck in right field with a Statcast-calculated 409-foot blast.

“What he’s doing between the lines is great, but I love what he’s doing behind the scenes and in the room, just connecting with our team,” manager Aaron Boone said of Soto. “The work and the pride that he puts into all facets of the game, that’s been the coolest thing to witness.”

After Isaac Paredes closed the gap with a two-run single off Ian Hamilton in the eighth, Tampa Bay threatened against closer Clay Holmes in the ninth. With none out and runners at first and second, Randy Arozarena lifted a shallow pop fly to center field that ticked away from a diving Aaron Judge.

After initial confusion regarding whether the infield fly rule had been invoked, the play was ruled a fielder’s choice, with lead runner Ben Rortvedt forced out at third base. Holmes induced Palacios to hit into a game-ending double play, converting his eighth save in nine chances.

“As a guy who relies on ground balls, the biggest thing for me is to keep trusting it,” Holmes said. “There’s going to be some that get through and maybe guys on base sometimes, but it takes more than one swing to beat me. You’re always one pitch away.”