With the Atlanta Braves hard charging towards a fourth consecutive division title, and the Washington Nationals sitting squarely in the basement of the National League East, the four game series the two just completed seemed as if it would lack substance.
Well, that was before Braves closer Will Smith decided to drill Nationals outfielder Juan Soto in the side with a 94 miles per hour fastball. Now, Smith and Soto have some history, though this plunking was surely not going to sit well with the boys from DC, who aimed to get the back of their best player.
Enter Sean Nolin, the journeyman, who prior to this series didn’t have a stake in this rivalry. He wasn’t around when the Braves won any of their first three division titles, and he wasn’t there when the Nationals won the 2019 World Series, either. Yet, the unwritten baseball rules insisted he hit the Braves best player in retaliation for the Soto bean ball.
Hitting Freddie Freeman may have taken two tries, but the task at hand was completed (even though Nolin claims a humid night led to a pitch which slipped).
Freeman and Soto hugged. Freeman and manager Davey Martinez fist bumped. Word of mouth says Smith didn’t hit Soto intentionally. All is well.
Until Soto hit a solo home run and blew a kiss towards the Braves bullpen. Sorry Juan, not buying you were “showing love to my fans in the stands“.
Round two between Juan Soto and Will Smith was interrupted by an intentional walk.
Brought in to protect a one-run, ninth inning lead, Smith was guaranteed to face Soto for the first time since the fireworks earlier and the kiss later on.
Due up third in the inning, were Smith to retire the first two hitters, he’d have to pitch to Soto or risk putting the tying run on base. Would Smith challenge Soto? Would Smith pitch around Soto? Would Smith retaliate for the kiss by hitting Soto again? Would the Soto Shuffle make an appearance? Would Soto hit a home run off Smith?
All these scenarios were deemed moot when Lane Thomas led off with a triple. After an Alcides Escobar strikeout, the Braves ended the anticipation of many, by holding up four fingers. An intentional pass.
Essentially the ball/bat was taken out of both player’s hands. The Braves weren’t going to let Soto beat them. They just assume do battle with Josh Bell, with a potential game ending double play in order.
Bell obliged, by hitting a ground ball, but his hustle down the line and an arrant throw led to the tying run crossing the plate. The Braves would eventually win in extra innings. As for Smith vs. Soto, 2.0, it’ll have to wait until next year. Washington and Atlanta have ended their season series for 2021. Baseball grudges have a way of lingering and there will be more to this story, before there is less, me thinks.