After belatedly running to first base and being called out in the fourth inning Sunday, Nationals slugger Juan Soto grabbed the brim of his batting helmet with both hands and motioned like he was going to smash it on the ground. He didn't quite follow through, so he at least avoided a fine for abusing his equipment.
Soto stood at home plate for no fewer than five seconds after swinging, staring skyward at an overhead pop-up that Orioles catcher Pedro Severino lost track of. Waiting to run cost Soto a single, because the ball dropped 14 feet from the plate, right at Severino's feet. A fortunate hop allowed him to throw to first base in time to get Soto for the out. Andrew Stevenson, who crossed the plate about the time the ball hit the grass, was denied a run because Soto made the final out at first base.
Soto spacing out at the plate cost the Nationals a run but not the game; they still beat the Orioles 6-5. Soto obviously realizing his mistake and being mad at himself also didn't spare him from being forced by manager Dave Martinez to apologize to the entire team after the game.
"I already talked to him about it and I told him it's embarrassing for the whole club. He understands that. I made him apologize to the team and I told him: 'It doesn't happen again,' and he understands that as well."
As reporter Mark Zuckerman reported in Nats Chat, it was highly unusual for Martinez to publicly call out any player, much less a star, for such a mistake. But he had good reasons for it.
Soto wore his self-disappointment on his sleeve well after the play was over, to the point that hitting coach Kevin Long came over for a conversation, presumably to help him get over it already.
Because of his overwhelming production, generally solid behavior and frequently fun personality, Soto has created a lot of good will and good times since his rookie season in 2018, so there's every reason to think he learned from this and that he'll be fine going forward.
Still, Soto might have needed a reminder to fight for any scrap — especially when you're not 100 percent. After batting .351/.490/.695 with 13 homers in 47 games in 2020, Soto's production so far in 2021 has been off. He has four home runs and just eight extra-base hits overall, which is possibly related to starting the season on the injured list because of a strained left shoulder.
The way Martinez handled Soto's atonement also could be a helpful moment for the Nationals in getting back into the NL East race. The lessons to be learned from Soto's mistake are simple ones, but those often are the most helpful kind during the course of a baseball season. What are they?
• Always run to first base when there's a chance you might be safe.
• Take nothing for granted, no matter if you're Juan Soto or the 26th person on the roster.
• Don't let embarrassment be the big takeaway, but do make yourself accountable for your actions.
Martinez wasn't managing only Soto here; Soto knows what he did. But it also was for the other guys who might find themselves in a similar situation tomorrow. If it can happen to the best player, one of the best in the league, it can happen to you too.
This has been a Nationals Public Service Announcement.