Nats slugger Soto handles World Series tension well at 20

Washington (AFP) –


Dominican slugger Juan Soto blasted two crucial shots off a pitcher who hadn't lost in five months and put the Washington Nationals in command of the World Series.

The 20-year-old left-fielder smashed a solo home run and a two-run double to lift the Nationals to a 5-4 victory at Houston in the opener of the best-of-seven Major League Baseball championship final.

"That's Juan being Juan," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. "He has to hit the ball all over the field. He's really good at staying behind balls and hitting the ball. And he was really good."

Houston's Gerrit Cole had gone 19-0 in 25 starts over the past five months but was tagged for two crucial blasts by Soto, who turns 21 on Friday.

"He's mature. Don't let the age fool you," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said.

"He was clearly the key guy that we couldn't control. His bat speed is electric. His energy and his body is as advertised. He's calm in the moment.

"Clearly this is not too big a stage for him. He was the difference in the game."

In his World Series debut, Soto became the fourth-youngest player to homer in World Series history, punishing Cole after last facing him in March pre-season exhibitions.

"I'm glad I faced him in spring training," Soto said. "I know how the ball is going to be, how high, the curveball, the slider, everything, because I face him in spring training.

"I was thinking the same thing, be aggressive on the fastball and waiting for the fastball. He likes to throw it. He's shown the fastball everywhere. The first couple of innings, he started throwing it and throwing it and throwing it. I was just waiting for that.

"After the first at-bat I was like, he's throwing really hard. But I just try to sit back and hit the ball all the way."

Soto has been coping with pressure since reaching the major leagues last season.

"Sometimes I just put gum in my mouth, but most of the time just take a deep breath and focus," Soto said.

"It's just the pitcher and me. Everybody around, I forget about everybody around. It's just you and me and you try to make me out and that's how everything comes down and try to enjoy it."

Hinch wasn't enjoying it so much.

"It looks like he's completely in control of enjoying the moment. And he hit all sorts of different pitches," Hinch said. "At this point age is sort of a number. He's had so many at-bats at the major league level. I don't even look at him as young until you see his face.

"He's got kind of the 'it' factor. He's got the twitch. He's got fast hands. He's got no fear. I think that's big for a young hitter, early in his career to just kind of leave it out there."

Soto hears similar things from Martinez.

"I tell him all the time put yourself in a good position to hit and take your walks," Martinez said. "But when you get a good pitch to hit, be ready to hit it."