Soto continued his rookie romp on Thursday with one of the biggest Cubs hits of the season, a game-tying three-run ninth-inning home run off Milwaukee reliever Salomon Torres that erased a 6-2 Chicago deficit and sent the game into extra innings. The Cubs won in 12 innings, 7-6.
A day after saying he did not like to talk about magic numbers (which for the Cubs to clinch their second straight NL Central title is one entering play Saturday), Cubs manager Piniella shied away from a question asked by one reporter if Soto was his MVP for 2008.
"We get contributions throughout. We have people here that have done wonderful jobs," Piniella said. "I don't get into these awards things. Let's just keep thinking ‘team' and keep winning a few more baseball games, and we can talk about all these things later on after the season is over.
"But Soto has done a heck of a job," Piniella conceded. "(Carlos) Marmol has, a lot of them have."
Only two years ago, Soto was vying for playing time as a September call-up; an emergency catcher to Michael Barrett and Henry Blanco on a last-place club.
This season, he has been the starting catcher for the National League All-Star team -- a first for a Cubs catcher since Gabby Hartnett in 1937, and the first time a rookie backstop has ever started for the NL All-Stars. His 23 home runs are the most by a Cubs rookie since Billy Williams hit 25 in 1961, and he was recently named the NL Rookie of the Month for August.
Soto's coming-out party of course began in the minor leagues at Class AAA Iowa in 2007, a year in which he batted a career-high .353, belted 26 home runs and drove in 109 runs. It all but assured that Soto would not be a third-string catcher for much longer.
He had lost over 30 pounds, helping to make him more durable in every area of his game. He had sharpened up his throws to second and was pulling pitches with more ease.
And there was something else, too: Soto began to display a sense of previously undetected maturity.
Gone – or so it seemed – was the Soto of old; the guy who was known throughout the clubhouse as everyone's favorite practical joker; the kid at heart who would walk by and hurl an expletive into the microphone when no one else was around; the guy who would kindly give you advice on anything from dance moves to dress attire.
It was as if, practically overnight, he had gone from the clubhouse version of George Carlin to someone with the leadership attributes of a Carlton Fisk. This "new" Soto seemed more like a team leader; that rare kind that is ready to handle a big league pitching staff while not necessarily sacrificing his own play individually.
Now he's just happy to be on a winning team.
Asked by one reporter where his game-changing home run against Milwaukee ranked among his performances this season, Soto responded as someone only looking at the big picture.
"To be honest, I don't know," he said. "This year has been really crazy for me. I'm just here for one reason: I want to win and keep going."