That’s one way (and not a particularly sporting one) to keep Ronald Acuna from hitting a home run on the first pitch – hit him with the first pitch. That’s what Jose Urena of Miami did Wednesday night. It was also Urena’s last pitch.
We’ve gone nuts in this space over Acuna the past two days, and now we’re seeing just how wide a swath the 20-year-old has cut. He has gone from prospect to target. To deem Urena’s fastball, timed at 97 mph, no more than a purpose pitch would be most charitable: It smacked Acuna in the left elbow, and they don’t call it the crazy bone for nothing.
Hurting like crazy, Acuna sank to his knees just up the third-base line. Then everything got … well, crazy. After a moment’s hesitation, the Braves left their dugout and advanced toward the mound. The Marlins did likewise. Ender Inciarte was indignant. Manager Brian Snitker had a full-blown snit going – pointing and yelling at Urena and Marlins manager Don Mattingly, too.
Matters cooled after a bit, no blows having been struck. The teams returned to their benches. Acuna began making his way toward first base, very slowly. His path took him across the front of the mound, where Urena stood. Acuna paused to unbuckle his shin guard, which he then flipped, cool as you like, behind him. It landed on the mound. Urena took umbrage.
And here they went again: Braves on the field, Marlins on the field, both sets of relievers charging from their bullpens. Snitker was yelling even more forcefully. First-base coach Eric Young offered his thoughts to Miami third baseman Brian Anderson, whom he also shoved. Snitker got ejected by crew chief Paul Nauert. After the umpires conferred, Urena got tossed by Chad Fairchild. Mattingly was most displeased by this, but a measure of justice had been served.
Twenty minutes later, the game resumed. Acuna stayed in. New pitcher Elieser Hernandez drew the ire of the SunTrust Park crowd – already in a lather – by throwing over to first base to hold Acuna close, or maybe just to tick him off more.
Official scorer Mike Stamus announced Urena’s pitching line to us folks in the press box – one hit batter, one pitch thrown. (Pretty sure that’s not a quality start.)
The first inning finally ended without further ado. The second inning began with Acuna taking his place in left field. Before Kevin Gausman could throw a pitch, time had been called and the sore-armed Acuna was headed to the dugout. He was replaced by Adam Duvall.
We all knew something had to change for the Marlins after the first three games of the series, which had seen Acuna smash three leadoff homers – and another in Tuesday’s seventh inning – collect eight hits, score seven runs and drive in nine. Pitching around him would have made sense. Pitching at him was bad form. (Although we note that Urena had already plunked 10 men this season, and he led the majors with 14 last year. He’s a not-very-good pitcher on a truly terrible team.)
As of this writing, the Braves have made no announcement as to the state of Acuna’s elbow, although it seemed semi-significant that he stayed in the game after being examined. That he left could be due to swelling and pain. I ask: Do you yell when you bang your elbow on the refrigerator?
The Braves and Marlins meet again in Miami next week. I imagine a Marlin or two will feel a little chin music. I know they would if Greg Maddux were still active.
It’s my favorite (of many) Maddux stories. Andy Benes hit a Brave back in the day, and Bobby Cox threw a tantrum, swearing immediate vengeance. Benes left that game before anybody got around to retaliating, and the Braves didn’t see him the rest of that year. Deep into the next season, his turn finally came up. Maddux, that night’s starting pitcher, went into Cox’s office.
“Still hold?” Maddux said.
Cox, perplexed, asked what he was talking about. “Benes,” Maddux said. “Still hold?”
At last Cox remembered his vow. “Damn right!” he said.
First time up, Benes hit the dirt. I’m not a major fan of mindless violence, but if I were Jose Urena, I’d look alive next week, next month, next year.
Oh, and one thing more: Per the Elias folks (and official baseball rules), Acuna’s run of five consecutive games with a home run did not end this night. An HBP isn’t an official at-bat. Ergo, the streak holds.