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Nationals earn walk-off win over Braves in return from COVID-19 hiatus

Washington Nationals outfielder Juan Soto (L) celebrates with teammates after hitting the game-winning single in the bottom of the ninth against the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. Photo by Pat Benic/UPI
Washington Nationals outfielder Juan Soto (L) celebrates with teammates after hitting the game-winning single in the bottom of the ninth against the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. Photo by Pat Benic/UPI | License Photo

April 6 (UPI) -- The Washington Nationals finally started their 2021 season and earned a 6-5 walk-off victory over the division rival Atlanta Braves on Tuesday at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.

Washington star outfielder Juan Soto bashed a line drive to center field in the bottom of the ninth inning to send the coronavirus-depleted Nationals, who had their season delayed five days because of a COVID-19 outbreak in their clubhouse, past the winless Braves.

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The 22-year-old Soto's game-winning single was the first walk-off hit of his MLB career.

"You hate to see him in that situation," Braves manager Brian Snitker said of Soto, who was the youngest National League batting champion in history. "He's just something else, that kid."

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Because of the COVID-19 outbreak within the team, the Nationals had their first four games scrapped. Four players tested positive, and seven more were forced into quarantine after potential exposure.

Adding to Washington's woes, Braves star outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. blasted Nationals ace Max Scherzer's first pitch of 2021 over the left field wall. It was the first of four home runs the Braves hit off the three-time Cy Young Award winner.

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Acuna went deep again in the third inning, while Freddie Freeman and Dansby Swanson also recorded home runs off Scherzer.

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The Nationals shook off the rocky start and cut into the Braves' 3-0 lead with Jonathan Lucroy's two-run double in the second inning. Following Acuna's solo shot in the third, Washington shortstop Trea Turner belted a two-run homer to tie the game 4-4.

Acuna plated another run in the seventh to put the Braves back on top 5-4. Andrew Stevenson brought the game even again in the eighth, and Soto ended it shortly later.

"As soon as we got that hit, cracked that beer open," Scherzer said. "Weird, frustrating start, but we won the game. That's what matters most."

Scherzer gave up four runs on five hits over six innings, adding nine strikeouts.

Braves starter Drew Smyly pitched six innings and allowed two earned runs on four hits. He struck out eight and walked one.

The teams are scheduled to play a doubleheader Wednesday.

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