- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 17, 2006

Alfonso Soriano stepped off first base and carefully measured his steps. One, two, three, four … and a little bit more.

Soriano needed just one more stolen base to join one of baseball’s most exclusive clubs, and Milwaukee starter Dave Bush sensed Soriano wanted a piece of history after a leadoff single to left field.

On Bush’s 3-0 pitch to Felipe Lopez, Soriano’s jump was so good that catcher Mike Rivera didn’t bother throwing to second as he became just the fourth man to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in a season.

Soriano’s teammates helped him celebrate the occasion with an 8-5 victory over the Brewers last night before 24,252 at RFK Stadium. Second baseman Bernie Castro had two triples and drove in two runs. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman tripled and scored twice and catcher Brian Schneider went 2-for-3 with two RBI, a double and a sacrifice.

“There’s a lot of players that can play this game, and it’s a pretty amazing number, 40-40, that only four players have done,” Soriano said. “I’m happy and I’m proud of myself that I did 40-40 this year.”

Soriano went 1-for-5 and scored a run on his historic evening. After the steal, he raised himself to his knees and pulled up second base from RFK’s infield. As the crowd rose to its feet to give Soriano a standing ovation, a bat boy ran across the infield and took the base from Soriano’s arms for safekeeping. His jersey will be delivered to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

“The guys that can hit 40 home runs or more usually don’t steal that many bases,” Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. “It’s been good for the team because of the individual that was pursuing this record. He’s s a super individual, and the guys like him. He carries himself the same way all the time. He’s upbeat and [his teammates] were happy for him, they were rooting for him and they wanted to see him get it.”

When Soriano’s teammates entered the clubhouse after the game, black Soriano 40/40 T-shirts, courtesy of Under Armour athletic apparel, were draped over each chair.

With 14 games left, Soriano has an outside chance of becoming the first 50-50 player. Soriano needs five home runs and 10 steals to start that club.

With his steal, Soriano joined Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez as the only 40-40 players. Soriano’s 45 home runs are the most any of those players during their 40-40 seasons. Rodriguez has the most stolen bases with 46.

Soriano had been sitting on 39 steals for four games. Since getting it Sunday, he had been picked off twice, caught stealing once, and was allowed to advance on defensive indifference.

“I’m going to keep my spikes, the base, my bat and my batting gloves for the future so my son and grandson can see it,” Soriano said.

Soriano’s family and friends have been down this road before. In 2002, as the New York Yankees’ second baseman, Soriano fell one home run shy with 39 homers and 41 steals.

This has been a trying season for the Dominican All-Star. During the offseason, the Texas Rangers traded him to the Nationals for outfielders Brad Wilkerson, Terrmel Sledge and minor league pitcher Armando Galarraga. Without asking Soriano, Nationals general manager Jim Bowden said his team was going to convert Soriano into an outfielder.

That didn’t go over well with Soriano during spring training. Once he returned from the inaugural World Baseball Classic when his Dominican Republic team was eliminated, Frank Robinson penciled in Soriano’s name as his starting left fielder in a March 20 spring training game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Soriano refused to play in the outfield that night and was seen leaving Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Fla., around the second inning. Soriano’s agent Diego Bentz said there was a verbal misunderstanding between Soriano and the Nationals.

The team threatened to suspend Soriano without pay unless he agreed to play the outfield. Soriano trotted out to left field for the next exhibition game and has been there ever since. He quickly grasped the nuances of playing a new position and now leads major league outfielders with 21 assists.

When he threw out Arizona’s Orlando Hudson attempting to stretch a single Monday in Arizona, Soriano became the first 40-homer, 30-stolen base, and 20-outfield assist player in baseball history.

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