WASHINGTON -- Rain was falling, midnight was nearing, and the scattered spectators who remained were chanting, "So-ri-a-no! So-ri-a-no!"
The reluctant left fielder capped a career day with a three-run shot after a wild pitch allowed Washington's go-ahead run to score in the eighth inning, and the Nationals beat the Atlanta Braves 7-3 on Friday night.
"Big home run. Big, big, big home run in the eighth inning," Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. "The other two were big, too."
It was Soriano's first three-homer game in the majors, and his five RBI matched his best. He hit leadoff shots in the first and third innings off John Smoltz -- only the fifth player, and first since 1999, to get two homers in a game off the former NL Cy Young Award winner.
"I don't count the first one, because I just made a terrible pitch," Smoltz said. "After that, tip your hat, because that was a ball and he hit it out of the park."
Soriano's final deep shot came off reliever Oscar Villareal, nearly five hours after the game was supposed to begin. The Expos-Nationals franchise hadn't had a player hit three homers in a game since Montreal's Tim Wallach against Atlanta on May 4, 1987.
And no member of the Nationals had hit two homers in a game at RFK Stadium, which some players have complained is too big.
"Not tonight for me," a smiling Soriano said.
He came to the Nationals in an offseason trade from the Texas Rangers and balked when asked to shift from second base to left field. The Nationals even sent eight players out to play the field -- with no one in left -- for what had been announced as the $10 million man's spring training debut. General manager Jim Bowden threatened to put Soriano on the disqualified list, withholding pay, if he didn't agree to switch positions.
Soriano was in left for the Nationals' next exhibition, and Robinson spoke before Friday's game about how the player is looking more comfortable out there. Soriano entered the day leading NL outfielders with three assists.
"I feel like I'm a Nationals player. The only thing is I didn't feel like I'm an outfielder. But I always feel like part of the group," Soriano said.
Where the team always figured he's be fine was at the plate. After starting the season in the middle of the lineup, he's now batting leadoff.
"We're a much better team with him," said John Patterson, who took a two-hit shutout into the eighth before a 3-0 lead became a 3-all tie.
Rain delayed the first pitch by two hours, 18 minutes, and the downpour resumed in the eighth. In the bottom half of that inning, Braves reliever Mike Remlinger threw a wild pitch that allowed Ryan Church to score from third and put Washington up 4-3.
Remlinger "couldn't grip the ball at all," Braves manager Bobby Cox said.
Soriano drove Smoltz's fourth pitch of the game over the wall in left-center for his 24th career leadoff homer. Soriano added another solo shot off Smoltz in the third, and Ryan Zimmerman added an RBI single to make it 3-0.
That looked like it might stand up, given how Patterson was pitching.
He retired Atlanta's first six batters before McCann singled in the third. The last out of that inning came courtesy of a spectacular play by Zimmerman. The rookie third baseman sprinted into short left field and, his back to the plate, made a diving, over-the-shoulder catch of Pete Orr's sinking blooper. Patterson applauded as he walked off the mound.
"A very special play," Robinson said. "That one should be shown in Nationals highlights for years and years to come."
Patterson retired another eight in a row before McCann's double in the fifth. The next string was eight consecutive batters, until -- you guessed it -- McCann's double with one out in the eighth.
Patterson went 7 2/3 innings, charged with three earned runs on five hits, with eight strikeouts. He has 21 K's in his last two outings.
Smoltz left after only five innings, in which he allowed three runs on seven hits. His three strikeouts give him 2,581 for his career, tying him with Hall of Famer Bob Feller for 23rd place in baseball history.
"I just didn't want to leave him in tonight with this weather," Cox said. "You've got to take care of them sometimes."
- Soriano also doubled in the seventh off reliever Ken Ray, but then was thrown out trying to steal third.
- The Nationals are 5-1 after starting 2-9.