COBB COUNTY, Ga. - The Marlins’ attempt at slowing Ronald Acuna was an outdated means of getting even, a gesture that needs to be left behind if baseball hopes to progress.
And it still didn’t even work: The Braves won 5-2. But the actual game was overshadowed by what occurred during the home team’s first plate appearance.
Acuna entered Wednesday on a near-unprecedented run. He homered in five consecutive games. He had eight homers in his past eight contests.
He’d hit three straight lead-off homers, one shy of tying the MLB record, each against the Marlins.
The 20-year-old stepped up to the plate aiming for history. He instead received a 97-mph fastball to his left elbow from Marlins pitcher Jose Urena.
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Benches cleared, with Ender Inciarte leading the way on the Braves’ side. Manager Brian Snitker won’t be seen more animated and angry than he was in that moment.
He barked furiously at Urena and the umpires. Coaches from both teams held him back and he was ejected.
Meanwhile, the Braves’ phenom remained on the ground. Team trainers checked on Acuna, who sat silently holding his elbow as chaos unfolded nearby.
Acuna elected to stay in the game. He stopped on his track to first base and tossed his shin guard on the mound. First base coach Eric Young Sr. was retrieving it when Urena shook his head and appeared to make a comment.
Snitker visibly blew up again, causing a second bench clearing that brought out both bullpens. Young appeared to shove Marlins outfielder Brian Anderson, but he was not ejected.
Braves manager Brian Snitker after the game on Acuna...— Zach Klein (@ZachKleinWSB) August 16, 2018
“He’s my kid... and I’m going to protect him” pic.twitter.com/crSqfAOPG5
As the action settled, the umpires threw Urena out. Marlins manager Don Mattingly exited the dugout to aggressively plead his case. He wasn’t tossed. Bench coach Walt Weiss took over as Braves manager.
Urena became the fourth starter since 1920 to hit the only batter he faced in a game. Each of the four were ejected. His only pitch was the fastest first-pitch of his career. The intent was clear from the moment Acuna was plunked.
Acuna took left field at the top of the second, but notified the coaches he couldn’t stay in. He removed himself, glancing at the Marlins dugout midway through his walk while the SunTrust Park crowd hallowed him with a standing ovation.
The Braves did not retaliate. Acuna’s homer streak remains intact, according to Elias Sports Bureau, because he didn’t register an at-bat. The teams meet again soon, playing four in Miami Aug. 23-26.
Wednesday was another example of why baseball’s old code should be abandoned. It’s unclear if Acuna will miss time, but there was no benefit to hitting him. It’s a needless move, one that serves no purpose other than expressing disdain and jealousy for someone else’s success.
As the sport tries to evolve, and especially reach a broader audience, the “unwritten rules,” as they’re popularly called, should be left behind. It’s unknown if it was Mattingly’s or Urena’s call. It doesn’t matter. The move achieved nothing but casting a cloud over one of the game’s most compelling national stories, and forced his team into an unnecessary bullpen game.
The Braves completed the four-game sweep. Dansby Swanson gave them their first lead with a two-run homer in the fourth. When he was about to cross home plate, he bumped his chest twice, put his finger on his lip and pointed to the sky – Acuna’s cadence.
The win bumped the Braves to a season-best 17 games over .500, their best mark since 2013. They might be playing their best baseball of the year. They have the second-best record in the National League.
But that’s overshadowed by Acuna’s fate. The lead-off star engineered the Braves’ latest surge. Now they anxiously await his diagnosis.
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