Juan Soto homers in loss to Mets as trade deadline nears


Juan Soto’s final at-bat on Monday night was not unusual: He walked to lead off the bottom of the eighth inning for his third free pass of the game.

What happened next was not so typical: When Soto stripped off his gear along the first base line, he received a standing ovation from fans at Nationals Park. They were acknowledging the possibility that they had just seen his last appearance at the plate in a Washington Nationals uniform. The same thing happened with Josh Bell, who lined 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 6:00 p.m. trade deadline Soto knew it, too: During a pitching change later at the entrance, he tipped his helmet to the fans before heading to the bench.

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

Back in the fourth, Soto hit his 21st home run of the season, off former teammate Max Scherzer. He took his time walking the bases and touching home plate. He walked toward the dugout as fans behind him rose to their feet and clapped some more to savor the moment.

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Scherzer must have understood Soto’s situation all too well: He spent more than six years with Washington before being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers with Trea Turner at last year’s deadline, a move that sent the 2019 World Series champions into a bind. reconstruction phase.

Scherzer’s presence on the mound was another reminder of how much an organization can change this time of year. Nine more innings went by on Monday night, and Soto and Bell were still with the Nationals. But many things could change in the next few hours.

At last year’s trade deadline, 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-place Mets in the NL East.

Soto and Bell got to Scherzer in the first inning, aided by poor defense. Soto worked a full count, walk with two out, then Bell doubled down the right field line. Initially, it looked like that would put runners on second and third, but right fielder Starling Marte threw the ball to second, where no teammate was present. Soto ran home and Bell advanced to third (there was also no Met covering that base) as Washington took the lead.

Soto would face Scherzer two more times, hitting a home run and then walking in the fifth. In each at-bat, he did his trademark shuffle and looked Scherzer down.

“[Scherzer] I don’t like it,” Soto said with a smile. “He puts his face down. … He doesn’t want to look at me. And I get it because he’s doing his job. And he is giving 100 percent no matter how good our relationship is.”

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

Washington finished with only six hits. After Soto’s home run in the fourth, Luis Garcia singled off Yadiel Hernandez to make it 4-3. Bell, a pending free agent, went 1-for-4, but Soto’s bottom line fitted if it was his last game as a National: 1-for-1 with three walks, two runs and that 421-foot blast.

“Facing a guy like Max, he had great at-bats,” manager Dave Martinez said. “I kept the ball in the zone, fouled some good pitches, got a ball to bat and hit it far.”

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Is anyone used to seeing Scherzer pitch for the Mets? The Nationals and Mets have met 11 times this season, but this was only the second time Washington has seen Scherzer. The former ace’s sight of him playing for a division rival still doesn’t feel normal for Martinez.

“It’s still weird,” he said before the game. “When you see it, you remember something in your head. But then I’m like, ‘Okay, we’ve got to go out there and try to beat this guy.’ Let’s find out how to do it. ”

How did Corbin do? He threw 90 pitches and allowed four runs in 4⅓ innings. He was coming off his worst start of the season, he didn’t make it out of the first inning against the Dodgers on Wednesday, but was able to get the team out to start Monday’s game.

But his next two innings looked a lot like what Nationals fans have grown accustomed to over the past two seasons. In the second, the Mets scored three runs on five hits and a walk, and Soto’s assist finally stopped the bleeding.

Pete Alonso hit a 110.9 mph shot off Corbin in the next inning that just cleared the wall in left-center field for his 27th homer. Corbin needed 24 pitches to get out of a scoreless quarter, and after he retired Francisco Lindor for the first out 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 out.

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