This being Texas, it was only fitting that Game 1 of the World Series boiled down to a duel. On the pitcher’s mound stood Gerrit Cole, who isn’t a Texan but sure could pass for one: tall, strong, bearded, long hair, bit of a snarl, fastball that touches 100. His weapon was a baseball. Standing 60 feet, 6 inches away was Juan Soto, the perfect foil, a baby-faced 20-year-old from out east, a charismatic, charming, hip-swiveling boo magnet. His weapon was a bat.
Three times they faced off Tuesday night, and all three distilled baseball in 2019 to its most delectable essence. Power vs. power, brains vs. brains, excellence vs. excellence. Major League Baseball exists for these moments because these moments are of what great World Series are made.cheap nfl jerseys china nike
And to see the final score — Washington Nationals 5, Houston Astros 4 — was to see a facsimile of Cole vs. Soto: incredibly close, eminently compelling, loads of fun and stoking a burning desire for more, more, more. The Nationals stole home-field advantage from the Astros by doing to Cole what no team had done in five months: hand him a loss. Amid that, Soto did to Cole what it no longer seemed any man could: make him look mortal too.
Inside the Nationals’ clubhouse, players, coaches, executives — everyone really — was one-upping one another to lavish praise on Soto. How young he is, how poised he is, how everything he is. Nobody described Soto quite like Johnny DiPuglia, the Nationals vice president of international operations.
“You don’t see dogs playing checkers,” DiPuglia said, and he was right not just that paws aren’t nearly dexterous enough to move checkers pieces but that Soto is that rare sort of beast, someone unique. And not unique like, hey, let’s call him unique because he is good at something or kind of interesting. No: unique, as in a literal one of a kind.china nike nfl jerseys cheap
Soto is bark, bite and double-jumps all in one. He is the only player ever with two seasons of at least 400 at-bats and an on-base percentage of .400 and slugging percentage of .500 before he turned 21. The five others who did it once: Ted Williams, Mel Ott, Jimmie Foxx, Al Kaline, Alex Rodriguez. Hall of Famer, Hall of Famer, Hall of Famer, Hall of Famer, Hall of Fame production.
The first-inning showdown between Cole and Soto, then, was quite the production. Since May 22, Cole had pitched 25 times. In those starts, hitters batted .166, posted a .220 OBP and slugged .300. In other words, over 169⅓ innings, Cole made the average hitter he faced perform like Blake Swihart, who hit .163/.222/.304 this season. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of Blake Swiharts.
Juan Soto is no Blake Swihart, though Cole treated him as such in the initial at-bat. First pitch: 97.4 mph, down the middle, up in the zone. Soto swung through it. Next pitch: 98.1 mph, another four-seam fastball, up and on the inside corner. Soto took it. Last pitch: 99.1 mph, paint up and away, at which Soto waved. Three high fastballs, three strikes, see ya next time.
Soto vowed next time would be different. He loves the game and the gamesmanship and everything that goes into the pitcher against the hitter. He harkened back to spring training, where the Nationals and Astros share a complex in West Palm Beach, Florida. He steeled himself for Round 2.