- - Wednesday, October 23, 2019

HOUSTON — There was a moment in spring training in West Palm Beach — just next door to the Houston Astros, the Washington Nationals opponent in Game 1 of the World Series Tuesday night — when Howie Kendrick predicted the future.

The 36-year-old veteran outfielder was joking around with 20-year old phenom Juan Soto in the locker room. Soto, sitting on a stool in front of his locker, had a package delivered, and Kendrick picked it up.

“Look, it says Washington Nationals Player of the Century,” Kendrick joked.

QUIZ: Can you pass this World Series trivia test?

Like I said, he may have predicted the future.

Soto continued to write his name in the 21st-century record book by driving in three runs Monday night and leading the Nationals to a 5-4 Game 1 World Series win over the Astros before a silenced crowd of 43,339 fans who didn’t come to see the young star manhandle their Cy Young candidate starter, 20-game winner Gerrit Cole.

But that’s just what Soto, the second-year Dominican outfielder who turns 21 on Friday, did — blasting a mammoth solo home run off Cole, followed by a two-run double, giving the Nationals what they needed off a pitcher who came into the game having won all three of his postseason starts and allowing just 1 earned run in 22 2/3 innings pitched.It

It was a daunting task for Washington, a wild-card team in its first World Series, facing a Houston team that won the World Series two years ago, made it to the American League Championship Series last year and had a 107 regular season games this year.

The Nationals came into the game talking about having fun — their modus operandi throughout the postseason — while the heavily favored Astros spoke of how “mature” their team was. They had the aura of a team about to take care of business, and the Nationals seemed ripe to be overwhelmed by the moment.

With their ace, Max Scherzer, on the mound struggling, allowing two runs in the first inning on an RBI double by Yuli Gurriel for a 2-0 Astros lead, and Houston’s ace, Cole, on the mound, that overwhelming moment had appeared to arrive.

Not hardly.

Ryan Zimmerman made Cole looked vulnerable with his solo blast over the left field wall in the second inning to cut the Astros lead to 2-1. Then came Soto’s fourth inning solo moon shot over the left field wall and his fifth-inning two-run double, reducing Cole to a victim.

This could be the national coming out party for Soto, for those who may have not yet seen the Washington Nationals Player of the Century. He has the charisma to match his talent, and if Fox is searching for baseball stars for this World Series show, they have found one in Soto. This kid doesn’t shrink from the limelight. He thrives on it.

His 34 home runs this season were tied for the second-most by a 20-year-old in Major League Baseball history, behind Mel Ott, who hit 42 in 1929. That’s 90 years ago. He is also tied for career home runs by a player before his 21st birthday, with 56, along with Tony Conigliaro, behind Ott with 61.

But there is so much more to Soto than the numbers. His dance in the batters box — the “Soto shuffle” — his smile and enthusiasm that has influenced this veteran clubhouse. He is MLB’s marketing dream. He may be Mike Trout with personality.

A stretch? It’s not my comparison. Hear it from the guy who played four seasons with Trout with the Los Angeles Angels.

“The guy wants to win,” Kendrick said. “He loves the game. He goes 0 for 4 and he’s right back at it. I played with another guy like that. His name is Mike Trout just had a great attitude every single day. I see a lot of those similarities in Juan.”

Welcome to the Juan Soto World Series, the Washington Nationals Player of the Century.

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

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