Nationals phenom Juan Soto's 21st birthday didn't go quite as planned

Scott Boeck

WASHINGTON — Juan Soto didn't get the gift he wanted most on his 21st birthday – a Game 3 victory in the World Series – but he'll settle for an unexpected duo of baseball greats singing him "Happy Birthday" hours before the big game.

The Houston Astros blew out the candles on Soto's party and the Washington Nationals magical run for a must-win game, a 4-1 victory on Friday night at Nationals Park.

"It doesn't matter. It's just business," Soto said after the loss. "I'm still happy it's my birthday, and tomorrow's another day.

"We'll come in, play baseball and try to enjoy."

Soto, the Game 1 hero, had an uncharacteristically poor performance on his big day – both at the plate and in the field. He went 0-for-4 and struck out three times, including the final out of the game against Astros closer Roberto Osuna. 

In the third inning, he bungled a ball hit by Jose Altuve in the left field corner and airmailed his cutoff man, allowing Altuve to advance to second base.

Juan Soto went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in Game 3.

In doing so, he became the sixth player to have an error on his birthday in the World Series and the first since Atlanta shortstop Rafael Belliard in 1995.

But it wasn't all doom and gloom for the birthday boy.

The fans in left field serenaded Soto with a rendition of "Happy Birthday" while he was warming up for the second inning. He returned the favor with a tip of the cap.  

And hours before the first pitch was thrown, he soaked up hitting advice from two of the greatest players in the history of baseball – Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz. The three talked hitting for several minutes at home plate before A-Rod and Big Papi presented Soto with a birthday cake.

Soto was red-hot entering Game 3. He went 4-for-7 with a home run, two doubles and three RBI in the first two games in Houston. And in Game 1, he made World Series history – becoming one of four players age-21 or younger to homer – a  417-foot blast over the train tracks in left field at Minute Maid Park – in a Fall Classic game. The other three – Mickey Mantle, Miguel Cabrera and Andruw Jones. Not bad company.

"He's been really good," said manager Dave Martinez after the game. "I just hope he hits at the age of 21."

So, what kind of celebration did the Nationals have in store for him in the clubhouse?

"For those of you who have been here all year, we'll have to keep that in the circle," said Martinez before the game.

It's a game Soto will put in his back pocket and build on. Game 4 of the World Series is Saturday night in front of what will be another sell-out crowd. 

And while he's now legally able to indulge in an adult beverage, his teammates hope they can notch two more wins and join him in a champagne and beer celebration.