Braves take big series in extras with Harris' heroics

Team gets boost from Acuña's cannon of an arm, Arcia's return

May 7th, 2023

ATLANTA -- Michael Harris II and Orlando Arcia are back. And Ronald Acuña Jr. being back is something opponents have regretfully realized as he has spent this season’s first five weeks dazzling with his five-tool talents.  

Arcia made an earlier-than-expected return from the injured list just in time to be part of one of the Braves’ most thrilling and satisfying wins of the young season. He and Acuña made impressive defensive plays ahead of Harris’ walk-off single in a 3-2 win in 12 innings over the Orioles on Sunday afternoon at Truist Park.

“To see them walk [Marcell] Ozuna and want to face me, it kind of lit the fire in my you know what,” Harris said. “I got a good first pitch and tried to hit it hard, and I did.”  

After the Orioles intentionally walked Ozuna to create a double-play situation with automatic runner Ozzie Albies on second and one out, Harris drilled Cionel Pérez’s first-pitch slider off the left-center field wall. This was the first career walk-off hit for the reigning National League Rookie of the Year, who has battled multiple ailments this year.

Harris missed three weeks with a sore lower back, returned for a week and then missed two games after jamming his right knee during Wednesday’s game in Miami. He was back in the lineup on Sunday wearing a knee brace that hasn’t limited the center fielder offensively or defensively.  

“Michael hasn’t had a whole lot of at-bats since he came back,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “It’s going to be good when those start piling up on him.” 

Harris was expected to return at some point this weekend. But as recently as Friday, the Braves thought Arcia might need another 10-14 days to recover from the fractured left wrist suffered on April 12. A couple of good workouts on Friday and Saturday accelerated the timeline and helped make Atlanta’s roster look as healthy as it’s been most of this season.

The Braves took two of three during this potential World Series preview. Atlanta has a NL-best 24-11 record, and even with consecutive losses, the Orioles still possess MLB’s third-best record (22-12).

“We just battled this whole weekend, and we’re glad to get the series win,” Harris said.  

Along with delivering the game-winning hit, Harris assisted Acuña by letting him know Austin Hays was tagging from second base in an attempt to reach third base on Adam Frazier’s flyout to begin the 11th inning.  

“I was telling him he was tagging, but in my head, I was thinking, ‘I don’t know why he’s tagging,” Harris said. “I mean this guy is the most accurate, and he throws 100 [mph] from the outfield. I don’t know why he was testing him.”

Acuña’s strong accurate throw denied Hays’ attempt and helped the Braves’ bullpen complete a stellar afternoon. Atlanta’s relief corps worked 6 1/3 innings, and the only run scored during this span came when Baltimore’s automatic runner scored on Anthony Santander’s double to begin the 10th. 

“I’m always anticipating the runners will go,” Acuña said through an interpreter. “So I just try to make the throw, and they just get themselves out.” 

Acuña entered Sunday ranked second among all MLB players in fWAR (2.1) and average arm strength (95.8 mph). No longer restricted by the lingering effects of his 2021 knee surgery, he is again a top NL MVP candidate.

Arcia might not fit that same description, but his return certainly will make an impact on a team that managed to persevere with Vaughn Grissom as their shortstop the past three weeks. Arcia’s impact was felt with one out in the 10th, when he fielded Gunnar Henderson’s sharp grounder and made a quick throw to third base to retire Jorge Mateo.  

“I love the fact that he has the confidence to make a play,” Snitker said. “That was huge. Anything can happen. He had an unbelievable game at shortstop.” 

Though no injury has been revealed, there is some doubt about Max Fried making his next scheduled start. But with catcher Travis d’Arnaud possibly a couple of days from returning from the injured list, the Braves are starting to look whole again.  

“I couldn’t even sleep last night with the excitement of me rejoining this team,” Arcia said through an interpreter.