Juan Soto delivers game-saving throw in New York Yankees debut

HOUSTON — That Juan Soto‘s first signature Yankee moment happened in his debut on Opening Day wasn’t far-fetched for a superstar with an uncanny ability to show out in the biggest moments.

But for that moment to happen on a game-saving defensive play? That wasn’t a part of the script anyone, at least on the outside, envisioned for Soto, whose defense has been a knock on him, especially over the past two seasons.

That’s what happened Thursday afternoon against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. With one out and two runners on in the ninth inning and the Yankees nursing a one-run lead, Kyle Tucker smashed a single to Soto in right field. Soto’s route to the ball was clean, he gathered it smoothly and let it rip — a one-hop missile to home plate that catcher Jose Trevino caught before spinning around to apply a difficult tag on Mauricio Dubon.

Soto pounded his chest and released a few screams. The play, confirmed after a lengthy review, prevented the Astros from tying the score and potentially snowballing the momentum to win it. Moments later, Clay Holmes closed the door, securing the Yankees’ 5-4 comeback victory.

Moments before the play, according to center fielder Aaron Judge, the Yankees’ outfielders had talked about the situation and how they had to come up throwing to save the game.

“That was a Yankee classic right there,” Judge said. “Juan’s debut, that was pretty special out of him.”

That debut also included typical Soto things. An eight-pitch walk in his first Yankees plate appearance. An RBI single in a tough lefty-on-lefty matchup against Framber Valdez. Another walk.

But the throw home was the difference.

“His process and work ethic and care factor about not just hitting, he takes a lot of pride in his defense,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “He wants to be great on defense. He wants to be really good on the bases. And he made a big-time winning play today on defense.”

Defense has been the only blemish on Soto’s résumé. The data says he has been below average or worse in recent years, and the eyes confirmed it.

He knew improving was necessary to maximize not only his worth to the Yankees but in free agency next winter. So he made defense a priority in spring training.

The first step was acclimating himself to right field again after playing all 154 games last season in left field for the San Diego Padres — the routes, the throwing angles. Yankees third-base coach Luis Rojas was a resource.

That work paid off in the ninth inning Thursday.

“It’s just a great feeling,” Soto said. “It tells you I’m going the right way, what I’ve been doing, and I’m more excited to keep going.”

First appeared on www.espn.com

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