No animosity for rivals after HBP, ejection

Nats starter Nolin tossed in first inning after plunking Freeman

September 9th, 2021

ATLANTA -- If this was tension, it was the friendliest tension you’re likely to see on a baseball field.

Nationals starter was ejected in the first inning of the Nats’ 4-2 win on Wednesday for first throwing behind, and then hitting, Braves star . And yet by the end of the sequence, it seemed that nobody was really that upset. Heck, when he crossed home plateafter hitting the go-ahead homer in the seventh, Soto even blew a kiss to … someone in the general direction of the Braves’ bullpen.

With a runner on first and one out, Nolin’s first pitch went behind Freeman. His second, another fastball, hit Freeman on his right side, near his waist. After the umpires convened, Nolin was ejected. That doesn’t really tell the whole story, though.

Freeman, for his part, didn’t really have an issue with what seemed to be a purpose pitch from Nolin. Or at least, not with the first purpose pitch. The second one, he and the Braves didn’t love.

"I expressed that to Lance [Barksdale, umpire] when he missed me,” Freeman said. “I said, ‘Lance, that's all he gets. That's all he gets. If he goes again, he's got to go. That's clear intent.' So, when he hit me again, I said, 'Lance, I'm sorry, but that's two times. That's clear intent.’"

This all took place in the context of an exchange from last year between the division rivals, as well as a hit batter one night earlier. In August 2020, Braves lefty Will Smith appeared to take issue with where Soto stood while waiting on deck to face him. Soto hit a home run that night and took a moment to admire it, and Smith had words for him as he rounded the bases. So that was in everyone’s mind on Tuesday, when Smith hit Soto with a pitch in the ninth inning.

Still, Nationals manager Dave Martinez said there were no hard feelings before or after the game, despite the fact that Wednesday’s hit batter certainly appeared to be retaliation for Tuesday’s. A notion that Nolin, for what it’s worth, disputed.

“First inning of the game, obviously it’s super humid out, compared to places we’ve been playing,” he said. “It just happens. Balls slip out of your hand. Rosin for me doesn’t do much.”

So he wasn’t trying to send a message?

“No. I wasn’t.”

As for Soto, he said there was no cause for Nolin to retaliate for Tuesday. You know, if he had been retaliating.

“Sometimes it happens,” Soto said. “He [Smith] wanted to throw the fastball in. He just missed more than he should. I know that he didn’t want to get the tying run at the plate. It happens. I really step on the plate. It is what it is. He just missed the spot.

As for Freeman, he was so fine with all of it that during a replay review at the end of the first, he headed over to the Nationals dugout for a friendly chat with Martinez. He wanted to let the Nats know that Smith had told him that Tuesday night’s pitch was not a purpose pitch. Martinez was happy to see Freeman, who briefly chatted arm in arm with Soto.

"I understand the game of baseball,” Freeman said. “So I just went over there to talk to them, and just express that Will had told us that it wasn't on purpose, and stuff like that. So I said I completely understand. … I just didn't like the fact that it was two times. You can't do two. You got one chance, and you’ve got to hit me and I'm totally fine. I would have reacted the same way. If you hit me with the first one, I would have gone to first base, no big deal. But when you miss the first time, that's your one chance. And that's all you get."

Said Martinez: “I’ve known Freddie for a long time. He’s that kind of guy. He understands that we both respect the game very much. I respect him and the feelings are mutual. I was glad he came over.”

As for that kiss? Well, Soto said he was just spreading a little love, as well.

“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.”