Ronald Acuña is one of the best young players in baseball, an All-Star who hit 41 homers and stole 37 bases this year. At 21 years old, he was the fifth-youngest player in the majors on Opening Day, which might explain why he made a Little League mistake in the Braves’ playoff opener.
Acuña led off the bottom of the seventh inning with his Braves up 3-1 against the Cardinals. He smacked a low slider into right field that bounced off the wall to right fielder Dexter Fowler, who made a strong throw to second to hold Acuña to a single.
A player with Acuña’s speed should make it to second easily on a ball struck like that, but the replay showed that instead of hustling out of the box, Acuña held onto his bat and sort of hopped down the first baseline, ready to celebrate a dinger.
Acuña did make it to second on a groundout by the next batter, but he ended the inning getting doubled off on a sharp liner caught by the shortstop, who flipped it to second for an easy double play.
Had he run out of the box, Acuña likely would have been on third and the inning would have continued.
As it happened, St. Louis tied the game in the next inning and tacked on four runs in the top of the ninths. A three-run bottom half of that inning, including an Acuña hit that did clear the wall for a two-run homer, wasn’t enough for the Braves to get the win.
It’s impossible to say how the game might have changed, but it is easy to say that Acuña screwed up. His own teammates voiced their frustration after the game, which the Cardinals ended up coming back to win 7-6.
Starting pitcher Dallas Kuechel said “If you’re not giving everything you have, you’re not only selling yourself short, but you’re selling the team short. You’ve got to live and die with the youth in baseball.” Ouch.
Acuña has made this mistake before, getting himself pulled from an August 18 game on an eerily similar play, something first baseman Freddie Freeman alluded to in his postgame comments.
“It’s frustrating,” he said. “You have that conversation once. You’re beating a dead horse when you keep having that conversation over and over again. You’ve got to know that was a mistake. That can’t happen in the playoffs. It can’t happen in the regular season. Unfortunately, that happened tonight.”
Through a translator, Acuña said it was a mental error, not a lack of effort.
“I always try to give my best effort. Those things just kind of get away from me.”
Acuña is still young, and we’re confident he’ll get this issue under control. His first shot at redemption comes this afternoon as the Braves look to even the series.