Cut the crap

Sandy Alcantara’s pitch ricochets off Ronald Acuna, Jr. in the third.

So far as the Miami Marlins seem concerned, the heir apparent to Freddie Freeman as the Atlanta Braves’s franchise face doesn’t wear a Braves uniform. He wears a target. Especially after he hits home runs, in the postseason and otherwise.

Here we went again Tuesday afternoon. Game One, National League division series. And, yes, it was weird enough that the Braves and the Marlins played in Houston’s Minute Maid Park, with the Braves as the home team.

Then Acuna hit the second pitch from Marlins starter Sandy Alcantara over the right field fence opening the bottom of the first. As is characteristic of the ebullient outfielder, he watched for the briefest moment before flipping his bat to one side on his way up the first base line to run it out.

Acuna had reason enough to celebrate even before the Braves demolished the Marlins with a comeback 9-5 win. He became the youngest man in Show history to hit a leadoff bomb in a postseason game. He and the Braves got to enjoy it until the bottom of the third, with the Marlins holding a 4-3 lead and Acuna at the plate with one out.

Alcantara threw at and hit Acuna on an 0-1 count with a 98 mph fastball. At least Alcantara waited until Acuna greeted him again instead of going completely infantile and drilling Freeman following Acuna in the first. That may be the only thing to his credit.

Acuna might have said after the game that he’s kinda, sorta, kinda getting used to being Fish fodder, but that didn’t mean he was necessarily thrilled to be so high on their hit parade when the third-inning pitch struck. He took a few steps forward, toward the mound, holding onto his bat a bit, and both Braves coaches and umpires surrounded him before he entertained any ideas about relieving Alcantara of his head or any other extremities.

“I looked over to their bench,” Acuna said post-game. “I said it’s been five times. At this point, I think we’ve become accustomed to it.” Not necessarily. If that were true, the Braves wouldn’t have engaged in a chirping contest with the Marlins before Acuna finally dropped his bat and took his base.

They also might not have answered the Marlins’ three-run top of the third with Marcell Ozuna doubling Acuna home following Freeman’s followup fly out and Travis d’Arnaud doubling Ozuna home to bring things back to within a run.

And they wouldn’t have bided their time, chased Alcantara out of the game in the seventh with a pair of inning-opening infield singles, one by Acuna himself, before Freeman forced Acuna at second with Yimi Garcia on the mound, Ozuna singled home Austin Riley to tie the game at four, and d’Arnaud hitting a 2-0 grapefruit far enough over the center field fence.

Nor would Ozzie Albies have followed d’Arnaud’s demolition with a base hit to chase Garcia in favour of James Hoyt, whose first service to Dansby Swanson disappeared over the center field fence, too.

That’s where the score stayed other than Matt Joyce’s excuse-me RBI single in the top of the eighth.

“I think it woke us up,” d’Arnaud said of Alcantara drilling Acuna. “And we took advantage of the momentum.” Said Braves manager Brian Snitker, “You better be good at going in and not hitting [Acuna] after a homer.”

Alcantara wasn’t, obviously. Nor was he especially good at covering his tracks after the game. Any expressions of the-ball-got-away-from-him/the-dog-ate-his-homework got vapourised when he added, referencing Acuna’s brief but interrupted advance to the mound, “If he’s ready to fight, I’m ready to fight, too, no matter what happens.”

Cut the crap.There was only one reason Acuna might have been ready to fight, and that was getting drilled his next time up after hitting one out and—oh, the hor-ror!—showing his pleasure over his feat.

Cut the crap. He’s hitting for a .318/.414/.665 slash line against them since he first faced them in 2018. It couldn’t possibly be that the Fish are fed up with Acuna making tuna salad out of them so far in his career.

Cut the crap. It doesn’t matter that has a .182 lifetime batting average against Alcantara into the proceedings. Maybe Acuna also felt like celebrating finally having something more to show than two walks, two strikeouts, and nothing else off the Miami righthander in ten previous plate appearances. Since when does that give Alcantara a license to drill when the first hit he surrenders to Acuna is a parabolic opening launch?

Jose Urena, whose 2018 drilling of Acuna after a bomb-flip got Urena suspended six games, has decent performance papers against Acuna otherwise, if not quite those of Alcantara’s: five strikeouts, three walks, four hits including that lone bomb, and a .235 batting average against him. But Acuna also has a .409 on-base percentage against Urena in 22 plate appearances. And he’s been hit twice in the bargain.

Cut the crap. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. You don’t want Acuna turning his bat into a helicopter rotor when he hits one out against you, stop throwing him cantaloupes to hit in the first place. You want to be a Fun Policeman, wear a police uniform and not a Marlins uniform on the mound.

It ruined Alcantara having a solid outing otherwise, until the Marlins bullpen—whose main men are the proud possessors of a 2.72 irregular season ERA—got dismantled in the seventh. It also put a little smudge on the Marlins’ 2020 reputation as a pleasant surprise who missed winning the National League East by finishing four behind these Braves.

But it also reminded close observers that Acuna has been bitten twice as often by the Fish as he’s been by any other major league team. MLB.com’s Mark Bowman was kind enough to point out that Acuna’s been drilled by Miami pitching once every 41.2 plate appearances—and once every 80 plate appearances by everyone else’s pitching staffs.

Acuna answered on social media after the game too. “They have to hit me because they don’t get me out,” he said in one tweet. “I’d like to take this time to apologize to absolutely NOBODY,” he insisted in an Instagram post. I’d like to take this time to say Acuna owes apologies to absolutely nobody.

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