- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Juan Soto’s heroic three-run single turned a dismal night into a bacchanal Tuesday as the Washington Nationals beat the Milwaukee Brewers, 4-3, in the National League Wild Card Game.

Down 3-1 in the eighth and desperate for offense, the Nationals loaded the bases against Milwaukee’s ace reliever Josh Hader, and Soto belted a hit to right field that rookie Brewers outfielder Trent Grisham misplayed. Michael A. Taylor, pinch-runner Andrew Stevenson and Anthony Rendon all came home to steal Washington the lead in a flash.

Daniel Hudson forced the final three outs to lock up the win, uncorking celebrations on the field and in the stands.

It marks the first time in franchise history the Nationals won a winner-take-all postseason game. They visit the Los Angeles Dodgers for Games 1 and 2 in the NLDS Thursday and Friday.

“To finally break through with this group of guys, it’s special,” Nationals president and general manager Mike Rizzo said as a player poured a beer down his back in the locker room.

Dave Martinez, the target of fans’ ire after Washington’s 19-31 start to the season, secured a win in his first playoff game as a manager.

“It’s a testament to those guys in that clubhouse,” Martinez said. “They played hard all year long. We started off horrible, as we all know, and we vowed that we wouldn’t quit. I told the boys, I promise you, stay with it, don’t quit, this will turn around. And it did.”

Soto, a 20-year-old who just completed his second regular season, said he was aware of Washington’s reputation in the postseason.

“I know they always go to the playoffs, they always lose, something like that,” Soto said. “But now we’re here, we try to fight. We’re gonna see how far we’re gonna get.”

Despite his age, there was no playoff pressure for Soto in his postseason debut.

“That’s how I like to play. I like to play with a lot of crowd, with a lot of people,” he said. “We get a little nervous, but we just try to control the emotions and be focused. It’s just the pitcher and me and the mound right now.”

Starter Max Scherzer gave up two home runs in the first two innings that put Washington in an early 3-0 hole. After Scherzer walked the Brewers‘ leadoff batter on a full count, No. 2 batter Yasmani Grandal belted his first pitch into the Nationals’ bullpen for a two-run shot. Eric Thames homered off Scherzer to lead off the second.

“I could tell he was amped up,” Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki said. “They came out aggressive, swinging early. We changed our approach a little bit after that, but you know, he made his pitches.”

Scherzer went on to pitch five innings with six strikeouts and three walks, getting himself out of jams as they arose. Stephen Strasburg replaced him in relief and fared much better, striking out four in the following three innings and scattering two hits.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen any emotion out of Stephen, really,” Suzuki said. “He made a little fist pump there when he got a ground ball from Ryan Braun with a runner on second. But this guy is businesslike, goes out and does the job, man.”

Trea Turner, facing two strikes and two outs in the third inning, nailed a solo home run to get Washington on the board, but that was their lone run for most of the night. The offense didn’t look like it would ever ignite, until the eighth inning rolled around.

Taylor reached base on a hit-by-pitch that the Brewers challenged, thinking the ball made contact with Taylor’s bat at some point. The call was upheld, and Ryan Zimmerman followed it up with a pinch-hit single. Rendon drew a walk to load the bases, setting up Soto to be the hero.

After Grisham’s error, Soto pushed past second base was caught in a pickle between second and third for the inning’s final out — but not before three runs had plated, two earned for Hader, one unearned due to the error.

“I saw the ball go around (Grisham) and I’m just thinking, ‘They gotta send Rendon,’” Soto said, “so I gonna make sure they throw to third baseman. So that’s why I just keep going to third and then do the rundown, make sure he scored.”

“Pretty good for a 20-year-old to be able to kind of slow the game down and not try and do too much,” Zimmerman said, deadpanning, “He’s got a chance to be OK.”

The Nationals’ playoff bugaboo did not disappear, though. Tuesday’s win advanced them to the divisional series — the round where Washington lost in 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017.

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