WASHINGTON — Baseball’s newest Mr. October can’t even enjoy a celebratory beer after the game.
Juan Soto, age 20, had the biggest hit of his young career Tuesday night, lifting the Washington Nationals to a 4-3 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers and into the National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers starting Thursday.
Soto’s hit to right field in the eighth inning was misplayed by Milwaukee right fielder Trent Grisham, allowing three runs to score and turning a sold-out Nationals Park into a thundering cauldron of noise and joy not seen since Jayson Werth’s walk-off home run in 2012.
Unlike that one, though, this was in a winner-take all game. And for the first time since the franchise moved to Washington, and the first time in five tries, the Nationals have advanced a round in the postseason.
The game was a nine-inning version of Washington's season - adversity early, then finding a way to pull out the victory late.
"Every day, they don't quit until the 27th out is recorded," manager Dave Martinez said. "And honestly, for me, you kind of got used to it. We're sitting there and nobody ever thought we were ever done until the last out, really. The dugout was fired up. The guys were fired up."
The crowd was as well. Starting pitcher Max Scherzer got a standing ovation when he walked to the bullpen to warm up, and the energy level stayed high through Soto's big hit and well into the night.
While fans threw beers and waters on each other in the stands, the Nationals retreated to the clubhouse after the win to do the same. Closer Sean Doolittle carried around a lightsaber, while Trea Turner wore an N.C. State football helmet, paying tribute to his alma mater.
Soto, the man of the hour, had his parents in town from the Dominican Republic. He said his mom cooked him a pregame meal of chicken and plantains - it might become a postseason staple.
The rally started when Milwaukee closer Josh Hader, who had been stellar all season, hit pinch hitter Michael A. Taylor on a 3-2 pitch in the eighth inning.
The Brewers asked for a replay review, which showed the pitch was close to hitting Taylor on the knob of his bat before getting his wrist, but the call stood and the Nationals had life for the first time all evening.
In what may be his final season as a member of the Nationals, the only player who has been with the team every season in Washington, former UVA star Ryan Zimmerman, provided a broken-bat single to keep the rally alive.
Anthony Rendon was walked, bringing Soto to the plate with the bases loaded. His double cleared the bases, and he was tagged out in a rundown between second and third bases to end the inning.
The hit was timely for Soto, who combined with Rendon had been 8 for 84 in his most recent plate appearances before the double.
Daniel Hudson pitched the ninth inning in relief for the Nationals, wrapping up a day when both Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg pitched for Washington.
Scherzer struggled early, allowing a home run in each of the first two innings, but Strasburg's three blank frames were a continuation of his September dominance, and set the stage for the rally.
The Nationals (94-69) will face the Los Angeles Dodgers in a best-of-five series beginning Thursday in Los Angeles. Patrick Corbin will pitch the opening game. The Dodgers will enter as favorites, but this season, the Nats have found a way to make the improbable happen.
"it's going to be tough," Turner said. "But I think if there's a team that's ever been ready to face some adversity, it's this one right here."