Until Sunday night, the legendary Mickey Mantle had been the youngest player in Major League Baseball history to hit a grand slam in a postseason game. He did so at age 21 in the 1953 World Series.
Now the Braves’ Ronald Acuna owns that distinction.
The rookie left fielder, age 20, extended his year of extraordinary exploits into the postseason Sunday night at SunTrust Park with a two-out grand slam in the second inning of Game 3 of the National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Acuna might have been less impressed than most with breaking a record long held by Mantle, a Hall of Famer and iconic New York Yankees slugger.
“No, I don’t recognize him,” Acuna said through an interpreter. “I wasn’t even born.”
Mantle’s grand slam in Game 5 of the 1953 World Series also came against the Dodgers, albeit the Brooklyn Dodgers at the time.
Acuna’s grand slam was the latest entry on his long list of historic feats this season. Just to name a few: youngest player in MLB history to hit a home run in four consecutive games … fifth player in MLB history to hit 26 home runs in a season before his 21st birthday … first rookie to lead a Braves team in home runs since 1943.
But Sunday’s feat topped all of those in Acuna’s assessment.
“I guess I have to rank it first of all the moments just because it happened in the playoffs,” he said. “And to be honest, that’s what we’ve been working for this entire time since spring training, trying to get to the playoffs. … That’s why I would put it No. 1.”
One pitch before the grand slam, the Braves gave Acuna a take sign on a 3-0 count.
“I didn’t want him trying to do too much on that pitch,” manager Brian Snitker explained.
The 3-0 pitch from Dodgers starter Walker Buehler appeared to be high, and Acuna withdrew his bat. But home plate umpire Gary Cederstrom called it strike one rather than ball four.
“I didn’t think it was a strike,” Acuna said, “but I was just focused on the … next pitch. And I was luckily able to connect.”
He deposited that pitch, a 3-1 fastball from Buehler, into the left-center field seats.
“That was huge for our team to kind of get that elephant off our back,” said Snitker, referring to the Braves’ bats being silenced in the first two games of the series, both shutout wins by the Dodgers.
The batter before Acuna, starting pitcher Sean Newcomb, had improbably produced the Braves’ first RBI of the series by drawing a two-out bases-loaded walk. Acuna’s grand slam gave the Braves a 5-0 lead. The Dodgers eventually tied the game 5-5, and the Braves won 6-5, thanks to first baseman Freddie Freeman’s long home run in the sixth inning. L.A. now leads the best-of-five series two games to one, with Game 4 on Monday at SunTrust Park.
Freeman, like Snitker, cited Acuna’s grand slam as a huge breakthrough for the Braves in the series.
“He continues to amaze,” Freeman said. “I don’t think we needed or wanted anybody else (at bat) in that situation. … Ronald was able to work the count and get to his hitter’s count, and I think everyone had all the confidence in the world.
“He’s been doing it all year, and to continue it in the playoffs, he’s pretty incredible. And everybody is starting to get to see it.”
Freeman later joked that he will try to help Acuna with a bit of baseball history: “I’ll work on Mickey Mantle with him.”
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