Juan Soto homers in loss to Mets as trade deadline approaches


Juan Soto’s last at bat on Monday-evening was not unusual as he walked to open the bottom of the eighth for his third free pass of the game.

What happened next wasn’t all that typical: When Soto took off his gear along the first baseline, he got a standing ovation from the fans at Nationals Park. They acknowledged the possibility that they had just seen his last plate appearance in a Washington Nationals uniform. The same was true for Josh Bell, who lined out in the next at bat.

Neither appearance meant much in Monday’s 7-3 loss to the New York Mets, but they could mean a lot more by Tuesday’s 6 p.m. trading deadline. Soto knew it too – during a pitching change later in the inning, he put his helmet on the fans before going into the dugout.

“I control what I can control,” Soto said. “Just get out there and play hard for those fans out there. because like [the fans] said they love me. So I’m going to love them again.”

Back in the fourth, Soto hit his 21st home run of the season – off former teammate Max Scherzer. He took his time rounding the bases and touching home plate. He walked to the dugout with the fans behind him and clapped a little longer to enjoy the moment.

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Scherzer understood Soto’s situation all too well: He spent more than six years at Washington before being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers on last year’s deadline with Trea Turner, a move that put the 2019 World Series champions in a rebuilding phase. brought.

Scherzer’s presence on the hill was another reminder of how much an organization can change this time of year. On Monday night, nine more innings went by and Soto and Bell were still with the Nationals. But a lot could change in the coming hours.

At the trade deadline last year, the Nationals were 47-55. After Monday’s loss, they are 35-69 – the worst record in the majors. They are 31 games behind the first Mets in the National League East.

Soto and Bell reached Scherzer in the first inning – using a poor defense. Soto worked a full count, two for a walk, then Bell doubled down the right field line. Initially, it appeared that runners would move to second and third base, but rightfielder Starling Marte threw the ball to second – where no teammate was present. Soto rushed home and Bell moved up to third—there was no Met covering that base either—as Washington took the lead.

Soto would face Scherzer two more times, homering, then walked in the fifth. In every at bat, he did his signature shuffle and stared Scherzer down.

“[Scherzer] don’t like it,’ said Soto with a smile. “He puts his face down. … He doesn’t want to look at me. And I understand him because he does his job. And he gives 100 percent — it doesn’t matter how good our relationship is.”

Soto flashed his arm as he threw Tomás Nido at the plate to end a second inning that could have ended worse for starter Patrick Corbin, who was slacking. Despite Soto’s contributions, New York still led 3-1.

Washington ended with just six hits. After Soto’s homerun in the fourth inning, Luis García singled home Yadiel Hernandez to make it 4-3. Bell, a pending free agent, finished 1 for 4, but Soto’s last line was fitting if it was his last game as a National: 1 for 1 with three walks, two runs and that 421 foot blast.

“Against a man like Max, he had great at bats,” said manager Dave Martinez. “Keep the ball in the zone, made a mistake on some good pitches, got a ball to hit and hit it far.”

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Anyone used to seeing Scherzer pitch for the Mets? The Nationals and Mets have faced each other 11 times this season, but this was only Washington’s second glimpse of Scherzer. The sight of their former ace playing for a divisional rival still doesn’t feel normal to Martinez.

“It’s still weird,” he said before the match. “When you see him, you bring back memories. But then I say, ‘Okay, we should go out and try to beat this guy. Let’s see how we can do that.’ ”

How was it Corbin? He threw 90 pitches and gave up four runs in 4⅓ innings. He came on his worst appearance of the season – he didn’t make it out of the first inning against the Dodgers on Wednesday – but he was able to retire the team to start Monday’s game.

But his next two innings were much like what Nationals fans have become used to over the past two seasons. In the second, the Mets scored three runs on five hits and a walk, with Soto’s assist eventually stopping the bleeding.

Pete Alonso hit a 110.9 mph bullet on Corbin in the next inning that just cleared the wall in left center for his 27th home run. It took Corbin 24 pitches to get out of a scoreless fourth and after knocking out Francisco Lindor for the first of the fifth, his night was complete. His ERA rose slightly to 6.57 and his record dropped to 4-15.

Lindor’s three-run homer off Steve Cishek in the sixth put the game away.

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