Soto puts tension to rest, hits homer in win

Slugger's towering shot lifts Nats over Braves after Nolin is ejected in 1st

September 9th, 2021

ATLANTA -- didn’t get mad, and he didn’t get even. He went one better -- he and the Nationals got ahead.

Soto obliterated a center-cut 0-1 fastball from Richard Rodriguez in the seventh inning on Wednesday, his solo homer breaking a tie and sending the Nationals on their way to a 4-2 win against the Braves. The 432-foot home run was Soto’s 25th of the year, his third in eight games at Truist Park this season, and his third-longest of 2021.

The shot capped a hard-fought team win, one in which the Nats overcame a first-inning ejection of starting pitcher Sean Nolin. It was the first time since the franchise moved to Washington that the Nats won a game in which their starting pitcher got fewer than two outs.

A night earlier, Will Smith had hit Soto with a pitch, and while Soto didn’t show any real reaction at the time, it seemed that perhaps the plunking didn’t sit well with the Nats. But Soto did what the great ones tend to do, responding with his bat.

“He just goes up there, he’s a really good hitter,” said manager Dave Martinez. “He got a ball out over the plate today and smoked it. But he just wants to play the game. Didn’t really say much last night about anything, he was just ready to play today.”

In the first inning on Wednesday, Nolin hit Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman with a pitch and was immediately ejected. Soto and Smith have some tense history dating back to an exchange in August of 2020.

Rather than being put off his game, though, Soto seized the opportunity to give his team a win and dent the Braves’ postseason hopes. And then he took a bit of a moment to enjoy it, blowing a kiss that appeared to be in the direction of the Braves bullpen after crossing home plate.

“Just showing love to my fans in the stands,” he said. “They are over the bullpen. They were yelling at me the whole ballgame. So I just showed a little love to them.”

Perhaps the biggest surprise was that Soto got such a good pitch to hit. He leads the National League in walks, and with two outs and nobody on, Rodriguez might have pitched around him -- even with Josh Bell, who homered earlier, on deck. But Rodriguez came right at Soto, and Soto capitalized.

“Atlanta is one of the teams, they always attack me,” Soto said. “They always try to get me out. It doesn’t matter how.”