Atlanta Braves center fielder Ronald Acuña Jr. is a supremely talented baseball player. That was on full display Thursday at SunTrust Park in Atlanta, where the 21-year-old, in his fifth career playoff game, had three hits, including a home run in the ninth inning.
But what also was visible in the opening game of the National League Division Series – which the Braves lost to the St. Louis Cardinals, 7-6 – was Acuña’s lack of hustle.
Acuña led off the bottom of the seventh inning with a fly ball deep to right field off Cardinals reliever John Brebbia. Instead of sprinting out of the batter’s box, Acuña trotted toward first base still holding his bat. The ball hit off the brick wall, and right fielder Dexter Fowler perfectly played it off the carom. So, instead of what could have been a double, Acuña was held to a long single.
It’s not the first time this has happened with Acuña, who in April signed an eight-year, $100 million contract extension. He was benched in August in a similar situation.
His teammates were not pleased on Thursday night.
“It is frustrating,” first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “I think you have that conversation once. Kind of beat the dead horse if you keep having that same conversation over and over again. You’ve got to know that that was a mistake. That can’t happen in the playoffs, can’t happen in the regular season.”
Said catcher Brian McCann: “That can’t happen. That’s something that you got to take the extra base. Ninety feet this time of year is everything.”
Second baseman Ozzie Albies, who is a close friend of Acuña’s, also voiced his displeasure.
“He had a chance to kill the inning,” Albies said, according to USA Today. “We probably score in that inning if he’s at second base. It was a big chance in a tight ballgame.”
Manager Brian Snitker was asked what he thought when he saw the play.
“That he should have been on second,” he replied. “And we’re kind of shorthanded to do anything about it right there. You hate to see that happen.”
Acuña would have handled it differently if he had the chance, he said through a translator.
“I was trying to give my best effort, and those are those things that just kind like of get away from me,” Acuña said. “Obviously, I would have loved to have a double if I could take it back.”
When asked to explain the seemingly conflicting thoughts – Acuña saying he gave his best effort as his teammates criticize his lack of hustle running the bases – Acuña gave this as an explanation.
“There’s a lot of baseball players who give their best effort all the time,” Acuña said. “But one kind of gets away from them. We’re human. We make errors.”
Game 2 of the best-of-five series is Friday in Atlanta.