WASHINGTON — The scoring of the play read like a Sudoku puzzle.
“It wasn’t good,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “You’ve got to see the ball. You’ve got to run with your head up.”
Soto reached second base with a 395-foot double off the center-field wall. When Josh Bell grounded to the hot corner on the next at-bat, Soto attempted to advance to third. He was tagged out in a rundown between shortstop Francisco Lindor, third baseman Luis Guillorme and starting pitcher Taijuan Walker — whose tag looked more like a tackle.
“I’ll tell you, that’s like an eclipse trying to get through him at third base,” said Mets manager Buck Showalter. “That’s a big man, and a big man that was trying to get there. Was he arguing that he blocked the bag on him? Well he did, but he had the ball, right? I think I’d take Tai on that one as far as the sumo wrestling. They have two good bodies, but I like our chances with Walker there in a collision. I don’t know if it was a collision? It seemed like [Soto] fell over.”
Said Martinez, “I think at one point, Juan thought he had an obstruction call because their pitcher had the whole base blocked. At that particular moment when that happens, I think you have to either run him over or try to go around him. He’s got the right to catch the ball.”
Soto and Walker also recounted the baserunning from their own perspectives after the game.
Soto, who stayed at third base discussing his play with third-base umpire Tripp Gibson, said, “I’m just trying to tell [Gibson] that he was in my way. I tried to slide on it. I wasn’t trying to hurt him or anything like that. I’m not going to try to tackle him, so he’s got to give me room to at least slide on the base. He just told me, ‘Tough play, tough call.’”
Said Walker, “It was unexpected. I got a little mad because it was a rundown, and I didn’t think he was going to slide into me. Smart play, I guess. The guy was going to second. But in the moment, I wasn’t too happy about it.”
But the play didn’t end there.
With Soto still on the ground post-tag, Walker tried to nab Bell on his way to second. When Walker’s throw went wide into right field, Bell dashed to third. The issue was, Soto had not gotten up yet and was still lying in the basepath with his hands on the bag. With nowhere to go, Bell was tagged out by Lindor as traffic built up around the base.
“Honestly, from my vantage point, I was thinking I was going to score because I didn’t think [right fielder Starling] Marte was going to be right there,” Bell said. “I thought there were going to be outfielders chasing that ball. So I was looking at Lindor, and I thought he was trying to deke me with holding his glove up.
“So I wasn’t really looking at Juan, I wasn’t looking at [third-base coach Gary DiSarcina]. I just saw the glove go up, and when he caught it, I was like, ‘No way,’ and then I knew what happened. Juan wasn’t in the way for a slide. I was just out.”
The defensive coordination by the Mets prevented the Nationals’ rally attempt and maintained a three-run lead that stood for the rest of the game.
The official scorer ruled that Bell reached on a fielder’s choice (5-6-1) and was retired advancing to third base (9-6). But with a play like this, there’s no need to get technical.
“In that situation, we got a double play out of it and there was nobody on then,” Lindor said. “If we didn’t execute it, there could have been one out and a guy on second or third. Every run counts. Getting those outs is huge.”