Jose Urena hit a Major League-leading 14 batters last season. Before the Marlins' right-hander threw his first -- and, well, only -- pitch on Wednesday night, he had already hit 10 of the 541 batters he had faced in this 2018 season.
So it's statistically conceivable the pitch that hit Ronald Acuna Jr. to open the bottom of the first inning at Sun Trust Park was one that just got away from Urena. An accident.
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Unless, of course, you actually watched the game. Or understand the code of fun-squelching that so many Major League players still irresponsibly operate by.
Everything about Urena's body language -- his glare at Acuna as the young Braves slugger nursed his now-ailing elbow after getting drilled with 97.5-mph heat, his basic beckoning of the Atlanta bench as it emptied -- conveyed intent, not accident. Home-plate umpire Chad Fairchild ejected Urena in the midst of the second of two confrontations that erupted in the aftermath of the plunking, though a more immediate ejection would have been defensible.
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Acuna attempted to stay in the game after this punk plunk, but his elbow puffed up on him and he exited in the second inning. That's the thing about hardballs. They're hard, and they hurt. They especially hurt in an era in which pitchers are throwing harder than ever. Indeed, that pitch from Urena was the hardest he had thrown to open a game in his career. That sure doesn't feel coincidental.
What was Acuna's great sin that instigated this incident?
Perhaps it was the mere act of being awesome against a Marlins team that is, um, less than awesome. Acuna came into Wednesday's game riding an incredible five-game homer streak (a streak that still stands, because he did not log an official at-bat on Wednesday) and a three-game leadoff homer streak. He's 20 years old, a sensation, an insta-superstar, and some people want to cut down the biggest trees.
There is the possibility -- a forced but all-too-feasible one -- the Marlins weren't policing mere statistical triumph, but the means by which Acuna accentuated his two-homer night in Tuesday's Braves win. There was a bat flip after his leadoff blast that wasn't exactly Jose Bautista-esque, but was still noticeable. There was some celebratory chest-pounding after the second that was, perhaps, a bit emphatic, so long as your operational standard is emotional detachment disorder.
Baseball is absolutely teeming with young talent right now, and yet we keep running into this same, unnecessary obstruction. Show just a little swagger, and somebody will try to shut down your show. Generations of baseball players have been raised under the assumption that the only hot dogs should be at the concession stands.
So maybe that's the message that was being conveyed to Acuna. If so, it's a terrible message in a game that needs as much Acuna-like energy as it can find. Some people complain about baseball's stars not being more marketable. But if the sheer grind and the fear of failure in a 162-game schedule steeped with it don't compel you to keep quiet, 97 mph to the wrist, elbow or ribs very well might.
It ought to go without saying that this is all barbaric and dumb, but it's also counter-productive. We need more Acunas, not fewer. Because of the excitement they engender, the eyes they attract, players with his sizzle and his skillset might be every bit as important to the league itself as they are to their own teams' wins columns.
Of course, if the attack on Acuna was motivated simply by his hot streak, that's even dumber. After all, a team with a. .393 winning percentage and 4.86 staff ERA can't go around intentionally plunking all the people having success against it or the games will never end.
Baseball's suspension system -- much like our courts system -- operates off precedent. So while Urena will undoubtedly be suspended, it's hard to imagine whatever is coming his way will satisfy those who want him tarred, feathered and otherwise embarrassed. If the current penalty structure doesn't move the needle in the minds of MLB players and managers, basic moral and business cognition should. What happened on Wednesday was bad not just for the Braves, but for the game. When you come after Acuna, you come after all of us.