Washington Nationals rookie Juan Soto tracked a pitch from Milwaukee Brewers closer Josh Hader and quickly recognized a fastball down the middle of the plate.
He ripped the ball into right field — and helped send Washington into the next round of the playoffs.
“Just get a base hit to the middle,” Soto said to TBS in a postgame interview. “That’s what I’m thinking.”
Soto’s hard-hit single rolled under the glove of Brewers right fielder Trent Grisham, and three runs scored on the eighth-inning play, pushing the Nationals to a 4-3 comeback win over visiting Milwaukee in the National League wild-card game Tuesday night.
Washington advances to face the Los Angeles Dodgers, who will host Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Thursday night. The Nationals went 3-4 against the Dodgers during the regular season.
For most of the evening, it looked as though the Brewers would head west to Los Angeles.
Milwaukee scored three runs in the first two innings and held on to a 3-1 edge entering the bottom of the eighth. Brewers manager Craig Counsell brought in Hader (0-1), a hard-throwing southpaw who notched 37 saves this season.
Hader quickly found trouble. Michael A. Taylor took first with one out after umpires ruled that he was hit by a pitch, although replays indicated that the ball may have hit the knob of his bat before striking him on the hand.
One out later Ryan Zimmerman followed with a broken-bat single, and Anthony Rendon drew a walk on a full count to load the bases for Soto.
“The hit by pitch, I’d have to look at it again,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said to TBS. “I didn’t really catch a good glimpse of it. Our dugout seemed to think it hit the bat first.”
Earlier in the game, Yasmani Grandal and Eric Thames homered for the Brewers. A promising campaign ended abruptly for Milwaukee, which won 89 games — including 18 of its final 23 contests — before the late-inning collapse.
Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg (1-0) earned the victory after pitching three scoreless innings of relief. He gave up two hits, walked none and struck out four.
Daniel Hudson notched the save by pitching a scoreless ninth for the Nationals. He and Strasburg followed starter Max Scherzer, who gave up three runs in five innings and left the mound with the Nationals’ postseason hopes in doubt.
“These guys are amazing,” Soto said of the Nationals’ pitching staff. “They always go to compete. They never give up. They show us how to never give up, so we just keep going and fight.”
Hader allowed three runs (two earned) on two hits and a walk in one inning. He struck out two.
The Brewers jumped to a 2-0 lead before recording their first out at the plate. Grisham drew a leadoff walk, and Grandal yanked a first-pitch fastball over the wall in right field for his third career postseason home run.
The quick strike stunned the Nationals home fans, who had just settled into their seats. Grandal was 1-for-13 with seven strikeouts against Scherzer in regular-season matchups before belting the two-run homer into the Washington bullpen.
In the second, Milwaukee increased its lead to 3-0 on a leadoff shot by Thames. He pounded a low breaking ball an estimated 411 feet to right-center field for his first career postseason homer.
The Nationals pulled within 3-1 in the third on Trea Turner’s solo homer. He squared up a 97 mph fastball for his first postseason blast off Brewers starter Brandon Woodruff. The right-hander threw four innings and gave up one run and two hits, striking out three without a walk.
—Field Level Media