NEW YORK — Juan Soto has been a big leaguer for nearly a month, and Wednesday he did something that only three other players in the live ball era had previously accomplished.
When the 19-year-old Washington Nationals rookie hit a pair of home runs in a 5-4 road win over the New York Yankees, he became just the fourth teenager to ever have a multihomer game at any iteration of Yankee Stadium.
Soto’s fourth- and seventh-inning homers were the first for a 19-year-old in a regular-season game at the stadium since Ken Griffey Jr. hit two home runs in a game at the old Yankee Stadium on May 30, 1989. Griffey was 19 years, 190 days old. Soto hit his homers at 19 years, 231 days old.
As a teenager, Brian McCall hit the only two homers of his career in the old Yankee Stadium on the final day of the regular season in 1962.
“He’s the truth,” Nationals reliever Justin Miller said of Soto.
If the postseason is included, Soto is now the youngest person to hit multiple home runs in a game in the Bronx since Andruw Jones (19 years, 180 days) did it for the Atlanta Braves in Game 1 of the 1996 World Series. To be mentioned in the same sentence as Griffey and Jones humbled the Nationals rookie.
“That’s very good. Two of the good outfielders,” Soto said. “That says a lot.”
Soto’s first home run played a pivotal, albeit somewhat unexpected, role in the win. It came in the wake of a pair of inning-ending pickoffs that shut down threatening Nationals rallies in the second and third innings.
Along with the pair of pickoffs — the first two Yankees starter Sonny Gray had recorded since 2014 — Washington also had a player thrown out for the second out of a lineout double play. Another baserunner was nailed at second base trying to stretch a single into a double.
“It was ugly,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “We gave them five outs. Typically when you do that, you don’t expect to win the ballgame.”
With Washington trailing New York 3-1 in the top of the fourth, Soto came to the plate after a pair of teammates reached to spark a two-out rally. Daniel Murphy drew a walk, and then Matt Adams singled to bring up Soto.
After taking a first-pitch fastball, Soto got another that he turned on and hit to the opposite field. The left-handed hitter skied a high fly ball that had a 45-degree launch angle, according to Statcast. As it carried toward the left-field corner, Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner appeared to be settling underneath it.
“But it just kept carrying and carrying,” Gray said.
As the ball drifted into the first couple of rows of seats 338 feet away, Soto was saying a little prayer underneath his breath.
“I hit pretty good, but too high,” Soto said. “I was running the bases saying, ‘Keep going, keep going.'”
The homer gave the Nationals a 4-3 lead, but the Yankees tied the game an inning later on 21-year-old Gleyber Torres‘ 435-foot homer into the back of the visitors bullpen.
In the seventh, Soto turned on another 1-0 fastball. This one, off Yankees left-handed reliever Chasen Shreve, was a laser that cleared the Yankees bullpen in right-center.
“He’s a good-looking player,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “The ball was carrying real well [Wednesday night], but a peek into the power.
“He’s been really good obviously since he came up. And for where he started this year to be here, there’s good reason, and we got a peek at it.”
Soto began this season with Washington’s Single-A affiliate before working his way up quickly to Double-A Harrisburg. He played 39 games in the minors before getting called up to the big leagues on May 20.
Since the call-up, he has been exceptional, batting .344 with 5 home runs, 12 RBIs and a 1.088 OPS in 20 games.
With family in the New York area, Soto had a couple of uncles present at Wednesday night’s game. His father was in attendance Tuesday, but Soto was given the day off. His dad had to leave New York on Wednesday morning, missing his chance to see his son make his mark on baseball history.
“It’s one of the best,” Soto said about where this baseball memory will rank. “One of the best games I’ve seen.”
His teammates are confident he’ll have several moments like this one in the coming seasons.
“It’s unbelievable, honestly. I’ve had my amount of time in the minors, and to see what he’s doing and to go through that and to be up at this level and to shine, that’s pretty remarkable,” Nationals starter Erick Fedde said. “He’s a special kid. I’m excited to play with him, hopefully for the next couple of years.”