By Sam Bush
Juan Soto became the second-youngest player in baseball history to hit a home run in his first World Series game, a 417-foot shot over the train tracks in left field, three days before his 21st birthday.
Soto, who bats left-handed, took American League Cy Young favorite Gerrit Cole deep to the opposite field in the fourth inning of Game 1 between the Nationals and Houston Astros. Only the Atlanta Braves’ Andruw Jones, who was 19 years, 180 days at the time of his Game 1 homer in the 1996 World Series, was younger.
“After the first at-bat, I just said, ‘It’s another baseball game,'” Soto said. “In the first at-bat, I’m not going to lie, I was a little bit shaking in my legs.”
Soto is the fourth-youngest player to hit a home run in a World Series game, joining Jones, Miguel Cabrera (20 years, 187 days) and Mickey Mantle (20 years, 352 days), who hit a pair in 1952.
He wasn’t done, either.
In the fifth inning, Soto delivered a two-run double off Cole to deep left field to put Washington ahead 5-2. He finished the game 3-for-4, and his 3 RBIs lifted the Nationals to a 5-4 win over the Astros and a 1-0 lead in the series.
“He’s got kind of the ‘it’ factor,” Houston manager A.J. Hinch said. “He’s got the twitch. He’s got fast hands. He’s got no fear.”
As the cleanup hitter for the Nationals in his second major league season, Soto hit .282/.401/.548 with 34 home runs and 110 RBIs. His bases-loaded single in the wild-card game propelled the Nationals into the division series, where his solo home run off Clayton Kershaw in the eighth inning of Game 5 helped send the game to extra innings before Howie Kendrick’s go-ahead grand slam.
Entering the World Series, Soto was hitting .237/.326/.421 this postseason. In his first at-bat against Cole, he struck out on a high fastball — the same pitch he later hit out for the historic home run.