Sandy Alcantara’s 97.5 mph sinker leaked inside and pelted Ronald Acuna Jr. on the hip in the third inning Tuesday.
Here we go again.
One game into this National League Division Series matchup between the Miami Marlins and Atlanta Braves, and the bad blood from an incident more than two years old between these two teams is already spilling over.
The benches didn’t clear. Acuna eventually took his base.
But the mood for this best-of-5 series between divisional opponents has been established. The Braves rallied for six runs late to win the series opener 9-5 at Houston’s Minute Maid Park.
And it was only fitting that the story of the game was defined by four plate appearances between Acuna and a Marlins pitcher.
– First inning: Acuna turns on the second pitch he sees from Alcantara, a 96.4 mph four-seam fastball, and sends it into the Braves’ bullpen in right center field for a 428-foot leadoff home run. Acuna admires his home run before tossing his bat to the side and rounding the bases.
– Third inning: Alcantara’s sinker plunks Acuna on an 0-1 count.
Acuna getting hit by Marlins pitchers is a sore spot for the Braves, dating bating to that Aug. 15, 2018, game when Jose Urena plunked the budding superstar. Both benches cleared that day. Braves manager Brian Snitker had to be restrained as he tried to get to Urena.
After being hit on Tuesday, Acuna took a few steps down the third-base line before inching closer and closer toward the pitcher’s mound. Alcantara, the Miami Marlins’ 25-year-old ace in the making who has shown a newfound external confidence over the past few weeks, stepped forward off the mound as if he was going to meet Acuna halfway.
Home plate umpire Andy Fletcher, Braves third base coach Ron Washington and Marlins catcher Chad Wallach intervened with Acuna. Marlins shortstop Miguel Rojas guided Alcantara back to the mound. Acuna, quietly, then made his way to first base.
“Obviously, these guys are emotional right now,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said during an in-game television interview on Fox Sports 1. “I know 100% we’re not trying to hit him there. He’s probably trying to just run a fastball in to gain some ground on the outer half. He went slider first pitch trying to run something down and in there, and got him. We’ve got him in the past. And you have to pitch him in there. We don’t want to hit him, but sometimes it gets away from you in there.”
Braves manager Brian Snitker’s thoughts on it?
“I don’t know,” Snitker said on FS1. “I’ll probably get in trouble if I tell you exactly what I think. They’ve hit this kid a number of times over the years. It’s 97 mph, and that hurts.”
He scored on a Marcell Ozuna two-out RBI double two batters later as part of a two-run rally that cut Miami’s lead to one run.
– Fourth inning: Acuna comes back to the plate with two outs and runners on the corners. He fouls off the first two pitches he sees and takes a ball in the dirt for a 1-2 count. Alcantara then blows a 98 mph sinker past him. Strikeout. Miami keeps its momentum for now. Alcantara follows with two more scoreless innings.
– Seventh inning: Alcantara, at 91 pitches, stays in the game and quickly gives up a single to No. 9 hitter to bring up Acuna. On the second pitch of the at-bat, Acuna sent a 90 mph changeup back up the middle for a base hit. Alcantara’s game was over, but the Braves’ rally was just beginning.
Ozuna tied the game with an RBI single against Yimi Garcia, Travis d’Arnaud gave the Braves the lead again with a three-run home run to center against Garcia and Dansby Swanson put the game out of reach with a two-run home run against James Hoyt.
Rojas tied the game in the second with a solo home run to left field. The Marlins took the lead for good with a three-run top of the third inning. Garrett Cooper’s double down the third-base line that skipped into left field scored Magneuris Sierra and Jon Berti. Brian Anderson then brought Cooper home with an RBI single to right, his first career postseason hit and first of three hits on the day for Anderson.
One half inning later, tempers flared. Four innings later, the Marlins’ lead was gone.