ATLANTA — It happened again. And this time it was in a postseason game.
Atlanta Braves center fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. failed to run out a ball he hit off the wall in right field, settling for just a single. The last time it happened, in August, he was benched. This time, he was called out by his teammates after the Braves lost 7-6 to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 1 of their best-of-five National League Division Series on Thursday.
“Yeah, it’s frustrating,” Braves star first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “But I think you have that conversation once. It’s kind of beating a dead horse after that if you keep having the same conversation over and over again. You have to know that was a mistake.”
Acuna connected off Cardinals reliever John Brebbia in the seventh, and right-fielder Dexter Fowler played it off the wall. By the time he turned to throw the ball back in, Acuna was just getting to first base. He didn’t have much of an explanation for not running.
“Things happen. Stuff like this doesn’t happen to the one who is sitting on the bench,” Acuna told ESPN’s Enrique Rojas. “It could have been a double, but things happen. I didn’t speak with the manager about it. I just went out to enjoy the game. I always try to give my best, but these are things that sometimes get away from me. They are not things I want to do. As players, we always try to give our best effort, but we make mistakes, we are human.”
The inning could have turned out differently if Acuna was at second base. An Ozzie Albies groundout would have gotten him to third instead of second. He was eventually doubled off the bag when Josh Donaldson lined out to shortstop. In a one-run loss, the mistake loomed large.
“He probably scores in that inning if he’s on second base,” Albies said. “It’s a big deal. He knows he needs to do better there.”
The lack of hustle overshadowed Acuna’s fantastic night at the plate, which included a walk and three hits, including a ninth-inning home run. But even the home run irked some; Cardinals reliever Carlos Martinez, who surrendered it, was upset at Acuna’s home run trot.
“I simply want him to respect the game and respect me as a veteran player,” Martinez told reporters. “That’s it. Just play the game.”
But in the Braves clubhouse, the focus was on the seventh-inning play.
“He should have been on second,” manager Brian Snitker said. “And we’re kind of shorthanded to do anything about it right there. You hate to see that happen.”
Snitker pulled Acuna from a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Aug. 18, trying to make the point to the young star that running out every ball is important, even more so in October.
“That can’t happen in the playoffs,” Freeman said. “Can’t happen in the regular season. Unfortunately that happened tonight.”
Teammates didn’t say anything publicly that they didn’t say to Acuna first.
“A couple guys told him, ‘Yeah, just run out of the box,'” Albies relayed. “It’s something you should do.”
Acuna was asked if he had another chance, would he do things differently.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I mean, I was trying to give my best effort and those are those things that just kind of get away from you. So, obviously, I would’ve loved to have a double, if I could take it back.”