Juan Soto may not have been in the starting lineup in his first day off the COVID-19 injured list, but he wasn’t going to miss out on a team celebration.
When Washington Nationals newcomer Josh Harrison returned to the dugout after a home run Tuesday, he broke out some dance moves characteristic of the Nationals circa May 2019, and his new teammates joined in. Soto, who was watching the game from the stands, climbed onto the roof of the first base dugout and pulled out his own moves — arms making small circles reminiscent of a surfer balancing on his board.
“When I saw the video (of Soto), I was excited,” Harrison said. “We got another person that likes to dance, so we can get down together.”
The Nationals jumped out to a five-run lead Tuesday and hung on both before and after an hourlong rain delay to beat the New York Mets, 5-3, in their first game since Thursday.
Washington (4-4) had a four-day gap in its schedule because a weekend series at the Miami Marlins was postponed due to the Marlins’ COVID-19 outbreak.
Howie Kendrick, who entered Tuesday with just two hits in five games, exploded for a perfect 4-for-4 night — a home run and three singles. Kendrick missed a few games before the break with upper back stiffness, but he got healthy in the interim and had his best game of the season as a result.
“Today the game plan was kinda work some counts, see some pitches,” Kendrick said. “I think sometimes as hitters we get ahead of ourselves and don’t give ourselves opportunities to see some pitches.”
On the home run, Mets starter Steven Matz “just made a mistake with a changeup,” Kendrick said.
The pitching win went to Patrick Corbin, who struck out eight batters in 5 ⅔ innings — five strikeouts coming on his famed slider. Perhaps more important on the mound was the work of the Nationals’ relievers.
When rain began to pour out of nowhere at the end of the seventh, Tanner Rainey had just gotten Washington out of a jam scot-free — but Sean Doolittle was already warmed up in the bullpen, so any plans to use him in the eighth went out the window.
“We had him hot for the eighth inning,” manager Dave Martinez said. “He got hot, he was coming in the game, it started raining and I’m not going to do that to him. We want to get him going. Once he got hot, we waited for a while and I wasn’t going to put him back out there.”
Javy Guerra did the honors instead, and he kept the Mets off the board. Daniel Hudson picked up two strikeouts in the ninth on his way to the save.
“The bullpen was phenomenal. Corbin was phenomenal,” Martinez said. “But I think the key was coming out here today and scoring first, getting that lead, and the bullpen came in and did their job.”
The Nationals chased Matz in just three innings by racking up five runs on seven hits. Kendrick and Harrison launched their solo home runs in the first and second innings, respectively, before a three-run third marked Matz’ final straw.
Kendrick singled and Asdrubal Cabrera struck a sharp double to the right field corner to bring him home. Josh Harrison later flew out to plate Cabrera, and Carter Kieboom piled on with an RBI single.
The Mets’ bullpen arms of Paul Sewald, Jeurys Familia and Dellin Betances slowed Washington’s offense down, while the bats eventually chipped away at Corbin. Michael Conforto’s two-run home run marked Corbin’s first earned runs of the night, and in the fifth he gave up three straight singles which plated a run.
Corbin left after a jam in the sixth, which Ryne Harper cleaned up; in the seventh, it was Rainey’s turn to mop up Harper, who walked the first two batters. In both cases, the Nationals stranded multiple Mets baserunners and clung to their lead, right as the skies opened at the end of the seventh.
The rain couldn’t throw a wet blanket on the Nationals’ win, particularly for a player like Harrison, who signed with the team as a free agent just five days into the season. A veteran infielder, Harrison filled in in left field Tuesday and finished with a stolen base and two RBI, including his 406-foot home run that clanged off a railing in the left-center stands.
“That was one swing of the bat where I was able to add something to the lineup,” Harrison smiled. “I just remember coming in (the dugout) and they start banging. I was part of the banging when other people hit the home runs, but this time it was time for me to dance. I’d say it was pretty cool. It was almost like my welcome into the team.”
The Nationals and Mets will meet just once more on Wednesday. After yet another day off Thursday, Washington welcomes the Baltimore Orioles for the first Beltway Series of the year.