It can happen any time, any place. There’s no particular rule about when a simple running down of a drive to the back of right field will turn into a completely-torn anterior cruciate ligament that takes you out for the rest of a major league season.
It happened to Ronald Acuna, Jr. in Miami’s Ioan Depot Park Saturday. All he did in the bottom of the fifth was draw a bead on and run down Marlins second baseman Jazz Chisholm’s one-out, high liner toward the back of right field, take a leap trying to catch it before it hit the track near the wall, and land on his right knee hard and awkwardly enough to tear that ACL.
Acuna hit the track and the wall after the ball that eluded him by inches ricocheted back to the outfield grass as Chisholm finished running out an inside-the-park home run. Chisholm was anything but thrilled about getting it that way.
“For it to come at that expense, it kind of sucks for me and him, because the way that I got my home run is because he got hurt,” Chisholm told reporters following the 5-4 Braves win—and that was before he knew just how badly Acuna was injured on the play. “The baseball world is going to miss him if he’s out for long.”
The baseball world in general, and the Braves in particular. So sit down and shut up, you social media miscreants who think the same as one poster who said, ignorantly, “Sorry don’t feel sorry for any injury everyone gets them, next man, up.”
If you think it’s that simple, let’s see you try to replace an effervescent clubhouse presence, and a guy who actually has as much fun playing the game as the Braves are going to sweat trying to replace a .900 OPS at the plate and twelve defensive runs saved above the National League average for right fielders this year so far.
Three Braves trainers tended Acuna on the track. He tried to get up and walk but could barely limp before the pain became too much. The trainers plus first base coach Eric Young, Sr. helped Acuna aboard the medical cart that drove out to him. Teammates talked to him like a fallen brother.
“It was more just trying to let him know that we love him and that we care about him, and we’re obviously with him throughout it all,” said shortstop Dansby Swanson post-game. “He didn’t really have anything else to say other than thank you for those words.”
This wasn’t a case of a player getting himself badly hurt doing what he wasn’t supposed to be doing. This wasn’t a baseball player attacking the game with a football mentality or playing the outfield as though the fences either didn’t exist or were there purely to surrender when he came barreling through.
This was a right fielder, maybe the best in the game this season, running down and leaping for a high liner he thought he had a chance to catch, landing with unexpected awkwardness followed at once by disaster.
This is also the game’s most dynamic leadoff hitter now gone for the year. Not to mention one of the classic current examples of reminding the Old Fart Contingent how foolish they look demanding players play the game like a business but remember it’s only a game when it comes down to its business.
“In his case,” writes The Athletic‘s David O’Brien, “there is even more substance than style, which is saying a lot considering he has style and swagger coming from his pores every moment he’s on the field . . . Though Freddie Freeman has been the undisputed captain of the Braves and the face of the franchise since Chipper Jones’ retirement, Acuna rivals him not just in terms of popularity among Braves fans but also in all-around performance and standing in the baseball world.”
Before Saturday night the only issue for Acuna seemed to be the Marlins having a particular penchant for hitting him with pitches. Acuna may like to take a couple of liberties with his batter’s box positioning, but the Marlins who’ve hit him with pitches twice this year and six lifetime—the most by any opponent in his career—have looked like headhunters when facing him.
It couldn’t possibly be that Acuna has more total bases against the Marlins (147) than any other team he’s played against in 50+ games, could it? It couldn’t possibly be that Acuna has a lifetime .736 real batting average (RBA: total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches, divided by total plate appearances) against the Marlins versus his .617 career mark to date, could it?
“This is actually the fourth time Acuna has had to make an early exit from a game this season due to an injury,” writes MLB Trade Rumors‘s Mark Polishuk, “but while those previous instances resulted in just a couple of missed games, [Saturday’s] injury appears to be much more serious in scope.”
That was just before how much more serious in scope came to pass. With a recovery time up to ten months, the Braves may well begin the 2022 season without Acuna for a spell, too.
“The only thing I can say,” Acuna himself said on a Sunday Zoom call, “is that I’m obviously going to put maximum effort to come back stronger than ever. If was giving 500 percent before, I’m about to start giving 1,000 percent.” The spirit is certainly willing. Unfortunately, the body may have other things to say about that. May.
“Acuna will be missed throughout baseball and especially by the Braves and their fans,” O’Brien writes. “Those fans scooped up Acuna jerseys and stood in line for Acuna bobbleheads and celebrated his every home run and bat flip, every stolen base and blazing dash from first to third—or home—and every cannon-armed throw to cut down a runner trying to take an extra base.”
Good luck trying to “replace” all that.