PITTSBURGH – On a day the Braves needed his best, Chris Sale provided it. The Braves avoided a sweep.

Still, something else loomed over this victory: Ronald Acuña Jr. injured his left knee. Late Sunday night the severity of the injury was revealed. The Braves announced that Acuña suffered a torn ACL and will miss the rest of the season.

Atlanta defeated the Pirates, 8-1, on Sunday at PNC Park. And while the Braves fly home and prepare to begin a four-game series with the Nationals, Braves fans and the baseball universe struggle to grasp the rest of the season without Acuña, who is one of the sport’s most electrifying players.

Here are five observations from Sunday:

1. Of course, all anyone wanted to know after the game was how serious was Acuña’s injury?

The speculative answer, from him before tests, was this: Not as bad as his torn ACL in 2021.

“(We) think (compared to the one from Miami), this one is not that hard,” Acuña said through Eddie Perez, the Braves coach who interpreted his answers for reporters. “It doesn’t feel that painful and I didn’t hear any pop or anything, so I’m feeling good. We don’t think it’s that bad.”

Later, the Braves found out the full extent of the injury. The worst possible news after an MRI revealed a complete tear and the stunning announcement was made. Surgery will be scheduled at a later date.

In the top of the first inning, Acuña bolted toward third base as the catcher threw the ball back to the pitcher, but he quickly halted and turned back. His knee appeared to give out and he fell to the ground.

Eventually, he walked off the field with a limp.

“Well, he walked off (the field),” manager Brian Snitker said. “Yeah, absolutely concerned. We’re not going to know anything until we get him looked at and we can’t right now.

2. The Braves had lost both games here. They were facing a potential sweep, and a road trip in which they won two of six games.

The perfect situation for Sale.

“He loves, I think, those moments when we need him,” Snitker said. “It’s almost like he thrives on that. That was huge again today.”

Sale ran his scoreless streak to 21 innings with a scoreless first frame before the Pirates scored a run off of him in the second. But he finished having allowed only that run in seven innings.

Snitker is correct – Sale knew how much his team needed him on Sunday.

“I think you take every start and you want to win, right?” he said. “But we’ve had a couple rough ones over the last couple of days and you want to end on a good note going back home. Big blow with Ronnie there early in the game. You want to kind of stop it there and do some positive things and get us on the right track.”

Sale, who has battled injuries over the last few years, has completed seven innings in six out of his last eight starts.

He wants the ball when the team needs it most.

“He’s been through plenty of scenarios in his career,” Matt Olson said. “No moment is too big for him. He’s the same guy in spring training, and I’m sure if he’s pitching in the World Series, I’m sure he’s the same guy.”

3. We might be witnessing some of the best pitching of Chris Sale’s career – a career, by the way, that saw him finish in the top five in Cy Young Award voting in six straight seasons at one point.

If you group together Sale’s last six starts, including Sunday, you come up with this: His current stretch might be the second-best run of his accomplished career.

Sale, who pitched seven innings of one-run baseball against the Pirates, has allowed only three earned runs in 39 innings over his last six starts.

The only span better than that in Sale’s career: A 10-start stretch in 2018, when he gave up only three earned runs in 55 innings.

Sale’s 2.12 ERA ranks ninth in MLB and fifth in the National League. His 78 strikeouts are the fourth most in the sport. Opponents are batting .193 versus Sale – the eighth-best opponents’ batting average in MLB.

4. Including this weekend, the Braves have played three series at PNC Park since acquiring Olson in 2022. In two of them, Olson has put balls into the Allegheny River.

In Sunday’s eighth inning, Olson mashed a 420-foot, solo home run that soared over the right field fence and into the river to greet reliever Aroldis Chapman.

“Yeah, that’s cool,” Olson said of sending one into the river. “There’s little landmarks like that. And off of Chapman, whose been a tough AB, and still is a tough AB. To be able to do that is nice.”

Perhaps you could see it coming: In his previous at-bat, Olson launched a two-run double off the high wall in right field. It gave the Braves a three-run cushion.

And in the eighth, two batters after Olson homered, Adam Duvall added one of his own to polish off a nice offensive afternoon.

Another highlight: Jarred Kelenic, who entered the game for Acuña, tallied his third three-hit game of the season. In his first at-bat, he hustled for an infield single, which allowed him to score on Ozzie Albies’ double and tie the game.

“I mean, that led to a run,” Kelenic said of hustling for an infield single. “I could smell a hit the second that that ball hit the ground, so I was gonna do everything I could to get there and beat him to the bag.”

5. You’ll love this quote from Sale, providing perspective to the 30-20 start and how, before Saturday’s game, the Braves had an identical record as they did through 49 games last season.

“That’s kind of one of the good things about this team, is there’s no panic,” he said. “We don’t throw parties for wins and we’re not kicking ourselves when we’re down. I think there’s a lot of things to be said about where we’re at right now. To think about them being the best team in the league last year and we’re in an identical spot this year, with some of things that have happened, that’s a very good sign. We just gotta keep going the way we’re going and keep our heads up, keep working, and it’ll shake out the way it shakes out.”

Stat to know

73 - Olson’s home run was the 73rd home run to land in the Allegheny River since PNC Park opened in 2001.


“Yeah, I was scared a lot, because I felt the pain in the beginning, but it’s been going away for a while.”-Acuña on the moment he fell to the ground

Up next

The Braves and Nationals will begin a four-game series on Monday, which is Memorial Day. Charlie Morton will pitch against Nationals lefty Mitchell Parker in the opener, which begins at 4:10 p.m.