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The once and future dinger: Revisiting Juan Soto’s “first” home run

The superstar slugger can time travel too!

Washington Nationals v New York Yankees Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

A lot of the coverage around Juan Soto’s trade to the Yankees last week focused on the seeming inevitability of it all. The club was one of the few that could absorb his anticipated $32 million and had a very obvious need for a corner outfield, and all in all it just felt like such a Yankees move. Go out and get the most expensive, best player available.

But the relationship between player and team began long before that official trade announcement. All the way back in 2018, a teenaged Juan Soto hit his way into the record books against these very same New York Yankees, a long ball that broke the very fabric of space and time.

Soto made his major league debut on May 20th, 2018, but his first career home run came on the 15th of the same month. No, you didn’t read that wrong. Juan Soto hit his first home run in the bigs on May 21st, a deep oppo taco to bring in three runs:

Except that’s not his “first” home run, at least by official MLB record keeping. It’s the first time he physically sent a ball into the stands, but a quirk of MLB scheduling meant his official first dinger didn’t come until a month later.

Let’s wind back a week. The Yankees are in the nation’s capital when the skies open up and the May 15th matchup with the Nationals is postponed. A dearth of mutual off days meant the makeup portion of the game couldn’t be played until June 18th, right on the heels of a three-game set between the two teams in the Bronx. Soto was of course active for those games, and introduced himself to the Yanks the way only he could:

Cue up that makeup game, where Soto was eligible to be on the roster despite still being at Double-A Harrisburg at the time the game “began”. Appearing in the resumed contest, Soto hit what would be classified as his first career home run:

Aside from giving the Nationals the lead, and building on a certain flair for the dramatic that Soto was already beginning to establish, the long ball set off a round of confusion around the game.

Not only was it a historical anomaly, it linked Soto to one of the very best hitters of all time.

Fun fact: through his first six seasons Bonds put up an .852 OPS, good for a 136 wRC+. Through parts of six seasons Soto’s notched a .945 OPS, or a 154 wRC+. Now, Soto’s not going to have the age-36 to 42 seasons Bonds had, for pharmacological reasons, but Bonds played less than 100 more games in that stretch of six initial seasons, and Soto’s been demonstrably better.

Soto made the most of limited action against the Yankees in that rookie campaign, with an OPS above 2.100. His career OPS against New York’s AL rep isn’t quite so gaudy, a mere 1.274. The player and the club have been entwined since the superstar made his debut — technically, before he made his debut — and I’m already drooling about that OPS number at the Big Ballpark in the Bronx.