In return to Washington after heroics, outfielder homers, makes stellar grab as part of eventful night
By Jacob Emert
WASHINGTON -- Eight months after Steven Souza Jr. made the defensive play of 2014, saving Jordan Zimmermann's no-hitter with a miraculous diving catch on the final day of the season, Nationals fans took a moment to offer their gratitude on Wednesday.
Before his first at-bat in his first game back in D.C., the rain-thinned crowd offered a loud applause. Many rose to their feet, taking advantage of one of the few opportunities they had during the Rays' 5-0 win, one that would be defined by Souza's bat -- including a home run -- and glove alike.
"The way the fans responded, that was pretty emotional, pretty high moment for me. I know that Jordan deserves all of the honor and I deserve nothing, really," Souza said. "But to have them do that, that was pretty cool."
Souza was on the right end of the no-hitter last September, and he made sure he was not on the wrong end of one Wednesday.
After taking longer than normal in his pre-at-bat routine in the second inning to let the moment soak in, the right fielder pulled a single to the left side. His welcome back party was just getting started.
Souza kick-started the fifth inning and broke a scoreless tie, sending a 1-1 slider deep into the seats for his 13th home run of the season.
"[Zimmermann] threw a slider earlier, 0-0. He's got a great slider, that one just didn't break as much," Souza said. "It hung up a little bit and like I said, I just tried to barrel it and a good thing happened."
In between the knock and the bang, Souza reminded the D.C. faithful about just how valuable he is in the field. In the second inning, he stole an at-bat from Ian Desmond, sprinting a long way from his right-field position to make a sliding catch against the wall in foul territory.
"What a nice applause the crowd gave him for a young player that's only spent a year here," Rays manager Kevin Cash said about the early-inning reception.
"He's an exciting young player. He made an unbelievable play in foul territory, and then he comes up and hits the big homer."
After going 2-for-3 off Zimmermann, Souza faced Blake Treinen and proved he had one more trick up his sleeve.
As a steady rain fell, Souza bunted for a base hit with David DeJesus on first base and one out. Treinen fielded the wet ball, but threw it into the outfield. Bryce Harper did the same thing in right field, except his throw -- one that was supposed to result in a play at the plate -- skipped into the Rays' dugout. Souza touched all four bags for the second time of the night.
"If it's dry, I'm probably not even thinking about it, to be honest with you," Souza said. "Two outs, it's not normal. But, I thought if I got it down and maybe it could be a close play. It's tough to throw a wet ball in the rain, and then getting off the mound was going to be tough in general."
Jacob Emert is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.