- - Wednesday, October 2, 2019

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Juan Soto doesn’t want to hear your stories of Washington Nationals’ playoff pain. He doesn’t care about the tales of woe, of blown leads and bizarre innings in win-or-go-home games for this franchise in postseason play.

Soto wants to dance — and dance he did Tuesday night, leading the Nationals to a dramatic comeback 4-3 win over the Milwaukee Brewers to win the National League Wild Card Game and sending his team into the NL Division Series, where they will face the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Tuesday night’s electric eighth inning may not erase the sting of postseason failures past, but should go a long way to proving that happy endings are within the grasp of Washington sports teams.

Soto, the 20-year-old Dominican who emerged as a star rookie last year and followed up with an impressive sophomore season, brought the soldout Nationals Park crowd of 43,993 to a fever pitch with a clutch game-winning hit in the bottom of the eighth.

With two outs and the bases loaded, facing ace reliever Josh Hader with the Nationals down 3-1, Soto drove a shot to right field that got past Trent Grisham and rolled long enough to score Michael A. Taylor, Andrew Stevenson and Anthony Rendon to give Washington a 4-3 lead.



Soto would get caught between second and third for the final out of the inning, but the damage was done.

Reliever Daniel Hudson — one of the key acquisitions by general manager Mike Rizzo at the trade deadline to shore up what was then the worst bullpen in baseball — got the save, starting a celebration that two innings earlier seemed very unlikely.

Going into the eighth, Washington had managed just three hits. With Hader — he of the 2.62 ERA and 44 saves — coming in, it looked like the door was about to be slammed on the Nationals. But this team has confidence in its ability to come back. That’s what happens when you turn a 19-31 start into a 93-69 finish.

The comeback wasn’t an offensive explosion. Taylor was hit by a pitch, pinch hitter Ryan Zimmerman blooped a broken-bat single to center (replaced by Stevenson as a pinch runner) and Anthony Rendon walked.

But with two outs, Soto, the big bat in the order with his 34 home runs and 110 RBI, blasted a Hader pitch into right, and the dancing began.

Soto almost talked his big hit into existence before the game.

“I feel amazing,” he told reporters. “I feel really happy. I can’t wait to see the crowd, how it’s going to be today. I like those kind of games like that, when all the crowd, the team, everybody is working hard and proud of themselves. It’s going to be fun.”

Soto’s hit was a blast of joyous relief for a home crowd that has seen too many disappointments over the years in deciding postseason games.

⦁ Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday and Sunday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.

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