21st birthday at World Series no piece of cake for star Soto

Sports

Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz give Washington Nationals’ Juan Soto a cake for his 21st birthday before Game 3 of the baseball World Series against the Houston Astros Friday, Oct. 25, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Juan Soto found that playing in the World Series on his birthday was no piece of cake.

The Washington star outfielder turned 21 on Friday, and the party took place at Nationals Park with about 40,000 of his closest friends in attendance for Game 3 against the Houston Astros.

Over the first two games, Soto went 4 for 7 with two doubles, a home run and three RBIs.

“He’s been really good,” manager Dave Martinez said. “I just hope he hits at the age of 21.”

Alas, the Birthday Boy had a rough night at the plate and in the field, and the Astros held a celebration of their own with a 4-1 victory to cut Washington’s lead to 2-1.

“It doesn’t matter. There’s another day, another baseball game,” Soto said. “It’s just business. I’m still happy it’s my birthday, and tomorrow’s another day. We’ll come in, play baseball and try to enjoy.”

Before the game, former sluggers Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz presented Soto with a cake near home plate prior to batting practice.

Then, Soto was serenaded with “Happy Birthday” by fans in left field while warming up for the second inning. He tipped his cap in return.

Those were the highlights. If he’s lucky, that’s what Soto will remember about his milestone birthday. What he would like to forget is going 0 for 4 with three strikeouts and an error in left field.

His teammates were not much better. The Nationals stranded 12 and went 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position.

“We just missed when we needed it,” Soto said.

Playing in front of a packed crowd at the first World Series game in Washington since 1933, Soto and the Nationals put on a disappointing performance that gradually quieted the crowd and got the fans to pocket their red rally towels.

In the first inning, Soto hit an infield grounder with two outs and a runner on second. He walked in the third, struck out with a man on in the fifth and struck out again in the seventh.

Worst of all, he made the final out, keeping the bat on his shoulder while looking at a third strike from Roberto Osuna.

He was also uncharacteristically ineffective on defense. Soto sailed a throw from left field over the catcher trying to get a runner at the plate in the second, and was charged with an error in the third when he fumbled a ball into the corner, allowing José Altuve to reach third base on a double.

Soto became the first player to make an error on his birthday in the World Series since Atlanta shortstop Rafael Belliard in 1995.

Only one player has homered on his birthday in the Series: Willie Aikens for Kansas City in 1980.

Before the game, someone mentioned that Soto — now 21 — would be able to toast himself with champagne. He said yes, he could.

There was nothing much to celebrate on Friday night. But there’s still a chance Soto can drink and spray plenty of bubbly at the end of the Series, which now is assured of going at least five games.

No matter how it turns out, it’s been one heck of a year. After batting .282 with 34 homers and 110 RBIs in the regular season, Soto helped the Nationals win the NL wild-card game with a clutch single against Milwaukee.

He hit a key home run off Clayton Kershaw in the deciding Game 5 of the NL Championship Series victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers and was instrumental in helping the Nationals win the first two games against Houston.

Soto said his talk with Big Papi and A-Rod was productive, hearing advice from players who had already been in these big-game situations.

Born in the Dominican Republic, Soto said his upbringing made him the person he is today.

“Not just my father. My entire family has been incredible,” he said.

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