PITTSBURGH — Nationals right fielder Juan Soto has had plenty of awe-inspiring moonshots in his career. The railroad tracks at Minute Maid Park. The concourse at Citi Field. But Soto’s latest home run might be his most improbable yet — albeit not how you might think.
Soto’s home run in the fifth inning of Washington’s 6-4 loss to the Pirates on Saturday night at PNC Park — the 101st of his brilliant, young career — found its way into the Allegheny River, though not in the way that one might expect.
The solo shot, which had an exit velocity of 108.4 mph, according to Statcast, snuck through one of the tunnels in the right-field bleachers, past fans and barriers before splashing down.
The slim odds of a ball ending up in the water like that should not be understated. The tunnel entrance is only about 6-feet wide. Once you walk down the stairs and onto the concourse, there’s a 3-foot wall that separates the inside and outside of the stadium. The perfect confluence of factors needed to happen for Soto’s frozen rope to end up in the water — and, they did.
What happened to the ball after it went out of sight was a mystery to the Nationals at first.
“We knew the ball disappeared,” manager Dave Martinez said. “I was just happy it was a homer.”
Soto is the first member of the Washington Nationals to hit one into the river in Pittsburgh, but he’s not the first member of this year’s squad.
Nationals first baseman Josh Bell is the undisputed king of sending baseballs for a swim in Pittsburgh.
Of the five balls to go into the drink on a fly from PNC Park, two came off the barrel of Bell’s bat during his five seasons with the Pirates. His four total river balls is tied for the most from any one player.
But Soto said he wasn’t thinking about joining his teammate on the list of accomplished sluggers to see their home runs find the water beyond the right-field stands.
“I never thought about it,” Soto said. “Right now, I’m just trying to get on base for the guys that come in behind me.”
Of the 63 balls to find their way into the river, Soto’s had the shortest initial distance, a Statcast-projected 382 feet. The former shortest home runs were a pair of 400-footers, one by Bell in 2019 and another by Paul Goldschmidt in ‘17.
Both of those went to the center-field side of the six-section stand atop the Clemente Wall. Unless another player finds a way through like Soto did, that might be a mark that stands for a while.
Soto seems OK with that, and with hitting line drives in general. Even though he has a 30-home run season under his belt and just missed a second last season, he’s much more satisfied with a line drive than a big fly.
“That’s what I’m trying to do every time, just hit line drives,” Soto said. “Those are more tough than the fly balls, so every time you hit a line drive, it feels great.”
Of course, at only 23 years old, Soto will have plenty of time to attempt a more traditional river shot. Of players that have not played for the Pirates, only Derek Dietrich has done it twice. With Soto’s power, ability, not to mention flair for the dramatic, there’s no reason to think he can’t do it.
“He’s incredible, there’s no other way to put it,” Nationals pitcher Josh Rogers said. “He’s so fun to watch every single day. I’m glad he’s on my team.”