Even in a game that had all the makings of a national breakout for Ronald Acuña Jr., the Atlanta Braves star was still left answering questions about his lack of hustle.
In just his fifth career MLB postseason game, the 21-year-old Acuña was clearly the Braves’ best player. He finished 3-for-4 with a walk, double and two-run home run while chipping in a run-saving catch for good-measure. And yet, when looking for missed opportunities in a 7-6 loss for the Braves in Game 1 of the NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals, it was hard not to look at Acuña’s very long single in the seventh inning.
Facing Cardinals reliever John Brebbia with a 3-1 lead, Acuña crushed a ball to right field. He admired the mighty wallop as he jogged down the first-base line, holding his bat nearly the whole way. He only let go when he saw the ball bounce off the wall, back into play. What looked like a homer and should have been a double for Acuña turned into a very long, very frustrating single.
The inning got even worse when it ended with Acuña being doubled off at second on a Josh Donaldson lineout.
This has happened before with Ronald Acuña Jr.
Acuña is no stranger to this type of play, as a similar thing happened in August under much lower stakes. Thought it was a homer, should have been a double, ended up as a single. Braves manager Brian Snitker benched Acuña for that incident, and Acuña accepted blame after the game.
Thursday’s jog didn’t lead to a benching, though Snitker said after the game the Braves were “kind of shorthanded to do anything about it right there.”
Braves teammates not thrilled with Acuña
The Braves were hit with several questions about Acuña after the game, and their reactions ranged from frustrated to supportive.
Freeman on Acuña not running out the ball off the RF wall: "it's frustrating. I think you have that conversation once. Kinda beat a dead horse if you keep having that same conversation over and over again. That can't happen in the Playoffs, can't happen in the regular season"— Kevin McAlpin (@KevinMcAlpin) October 4, 2019
More Swanson on Acuña: "... In the moment anybody can be frustrated, including him. But that’s nothing we can dwell on....— David O'Brien (@DOBrienATL) October 4, 2019
He’s an unbelievable player and an unbelievable talent. We’re lucky to have him on our side." (2/2)
First time I've heard Albies and McCann criticize teammate's actions like they did tonight w/ Acuña. Everyone asked on the record basically said, that can't happen. He knows it. Ozzie said they could've scored that inning. McCann said in the playoffs, 90 feet can mean everything.— David O'Brien (@DOBrienATL) October 4, 2019
Acuña did plenty to redeem himself
As easy as it is to put blame for the loss on Acuña, it’s hard to deny the Braves would have been even close to winning without him during the game.
Acuña pulled the Braves back within two runs in the ninth inning with a two-run homer, admiring the long ball as it actually turned out to be a homer.
Of course, even that hit prompted some criticism of Acuña after the game.
Cardinals closer also mad at Acuña
Cardinals closer took issue with Acuña’s home run trot while speaking with reporters, saying the slow pace was disrespectful to him “as a veteran player.” The 28-year-old Martinez certainly complained like a veteran.
The Cardinals weren't thrilled by how Ronald Acuña Jr. rounded the bases on his 9th inning homer, enough that Yadier Molina went to the mound to calm Carlos Martinez down afterwards.— Joe Trezza (@JoeTrezz) October 4, 2019
Postgame, Martinez said: "I wanted him to respect the game & respect me as a veteran player."
We can imagine that the Braves don’t care as much about that critique.
Clearly, Acuña screwed up in the seventh inning. It’s the postseason, every hit matters, and so on. The Braves might have been able to squeeze out an extra run if he ended up at second base, and they ended up losing by one run.
Hopefully, this is the last we hear about the matter. After all, no one can say that they wouldn’t want to have Acuña on their side moving forward.
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