After Sandy Alcantara plunked Ronald Acuña Jr. with a pitch that stirred both dugouts in the bottom of the third inning of Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Tuesday afternoon, Alcantara took a deep breath and focused on the next batter and the next pitch he needed to make. He settled in from there, which is exactly what his manager wanted to see.
“I thought he might have gotten a little emotional,” Don Mattingly said. “Looked like he was chirping in their dugout a little bit or looking in there at least. Just want him to settle down there and make pitches. I knew he didn’t hit him on purpose.”
Alcantara did what he could to keep the Marlins ahead of the Braves in Miami’s 9-5 loss at Minute Maid Park. After the third-inning hit by pitch -- which Alcantara said was not retaliation for Acuña’s bat flip to punctuate a leadoff home run in the first inning -- and RBI doubles from Marcell Ozuna and Travis d’Arnaud, Alcantara got through the next three innings with ease until a pair of singles to begin the seventh ended his day.
“That was frustrating, because I wanted to throw my seven innings,” Alcantara said. "But they took me out of the game. I have to respect that decision. I have to keep positive and keep working hard to get better.”
The 25-year-old struck out eight in six-plus innings, and although he was charged with five runs after the Braves erupted on Miami’s bullpen in the seventh inning, Alcantara showed once again how important he is to the Marlins’ rotation. He mixed his fastball, slider and changeup to keep the Braves on their toes, while also forcing them to look out for his sinker and a few curveballs. Alcantara got Atlanta’s offense to swing and miss on 18 pitches and made them foul off 21.
“When he’s attacking from the zone, his stuff’s unbelievable,” Brian Anderson said. “So he was just attacking the zone, mixing his offspeed, keeping them off balance. He did a great job for us. He’s a workhorse, and we’ve got full confidence every time he runs out there that he’s going to give us everything he’s got.”
Alcantara was insistent that he didn’t hit Acuña on purpose, saying that he was trying to go inside with a 97-mph sinker that ended up hitting the Braves’ young star. When Acuña took a few steps forward, tensions rose on the field and in the dugout.
“He [didn’t] say [anything], and I [didn’t] say [anything], too,” Alcantara said. “But like I said, if he’s ready to fight, I’m ready to fight, too.”
When everything settled down, Alcantara pushed the emotions to the back of his mind, zeroed in on the next batter, Freddie Freeman, and got him to fly out to center field.
“I just had to forget about what happened,” Alcantara said. “Go out with my same mentality and throw strikes.”
Alcantara got out of the third inning and pitched around traffic in the fourth and fifth before a clean sixth inning. He was still hitting 97 and 98 mph with his fastball, so Mattingly sent him out for the seventh. Alcantara ended the day with 95 pitches (68 strikes).
If the Marlins can overcome their series deficit and force a Game 4 on Friday, Alcantara says he’ll be ready for anything. That’s what an ace does.
“He’s been nothing short of amazing for us in the postseason and the regular season, so our job now is to try to get him back out there at some point,” Mattingly said. “And that’s where we’re going.”