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Acuña's lack of hustle 'can't happen' in playoffs

Braves star held to single after admiring drive in seventh inning
@mlbbowman
October 4, 2019

ATLANTA -- Instead of discussing his tremendous catch and monstrous home run in the Braves' 7-6 loss to the Cardinals in Game 1 of the National League Division Series, outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. had to once again answer questions about admiring a long fly ball that resulted in just a

ATLANTA -- Instead of discussing his tremendous catch and monstrous home run in the Braves' 7-6 loss to the Cardinals in Game 1 of the National League Division Series, outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. had to once again answer questions about admiring a long fly ball that resulted in just a single.

“It’s the playoffs,” said starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel, who allowed one run over 4 2/3 innings in Game 1. “If you’re not giving everything you have, you’re not only selling yourself short, but you’re selling the team short. You’ve got to live and die with the youth in baseball.”

Game Date Result Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 3 STL 7, ATL 6 Watch
Gm 2 Oct. 4 ATL 3, STL 0 Watch
Gm 3 Oct. 6 ATL 3, STL 1 Watch
Gm 4 Oct. 7 STL 5, ATL 4 (10) Watch
Gm 5 Oct. 9 STL 13, ATL 1 Watch

Acuña drilled a 455-foot home run in the ninth inning -- the fifth-longest postseason homer Statcast has recorded since 2015 -- and he made a four-star catch on a Kolten Wong sinking liner that had a 35-percent catch probability to end the second inning. But the ultra-talented 21-year-old star was forced to dwell on the displeasure he created within his own clubhouse when he got a single out of a 331-foot fly ball that nearly hit the right-field foul pole.

“He’s one of the best players I’ve ever seen play the game,” Braves catcher Brian McCann said. “He’ll tell you, he knows he’s got to get to second. He knows that.”

After Acuña was limited to a single in the seventh inning in a game his team was leading, 3-1, he advanced to second on an Albies groundout to the right side of the infield, which would have seen him move to third base with one out if he had gotten the double. Freeman was then hit by a pitch, so if Acuña had hustled for the double, Atlanta would have had runners at the corners with one out and Josh Donaldson at the plate. Instead, Acuña was still at second base when he was doubled off on Donaldson’s inning-ending line drive to Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong.

“There’s a lot of baseball players who give their best effort all of the time,” Acuña said through an interpreter. “But one kind of gets away from them. You’re human. You make errors.”

After Acuña couldn't score in the seventh inning, St. Louis scored twice in the eighth and plated four in the ninth to take a 7-3 lead.

This is not the first time Acuña has made this error. Nor was it the first time on Aug. 18, when he was removed from a game against the Dodgers after admiring a single that hit off the right-center-field wall.

“It’s frustrating,” Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “You have that conversation once. You’re beating a dead horse when you keep having that conversation over and over again. You’ve got to know that was a mistake. That can’t happen in the playoffs. It can’t happen in the regular season. Unfortunately, that happened tonight.”

Acuña drilled 41 homers and finished three steals shy of what would have been the fifth 40/40 season in MLB history. His long homer and tremendous catch in this postseason opener showed why many believe he has the capability to be the game’s next Mike Trout.

But as the baseball world delights at the chance to “let the kids play,” there are still instances like this when young players will frustrate by reminding everyone that they are still prone to youthful mistakes.

Albies, Acuña’s best friend, is part of that youth. He was among the teammates who provided some critical postgame comments.

“It’s a big deal,” Albies said. “He knows he needs to do better there.”

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.