In Thursday’s 8-7 win over the Dodgers, Acuña became the first player to hit at least 30 home runs and steal at least 60 bases in a season in Major League Baseball history.
“I feel very happy, I feel very special,” Acuña said through interpreter Franco García. “I’m very thankful. I feel very privileged, and I thank God for the opportunity to play the game that I love every single day. It’s not just about me, it’s also about my teammates and the fanbase as well, to be able to share this moment.”
He accomplished this in a big way: In the second inning against the Dodgers, Acuña pulverized a 429-foot grand slam off Lynn for his 30th home run. Acuña entered the game with 61 stolen bases, and only needed one homer to make history. (He has 62 stolen bases after swiping another bag in the ninth inning on Thursday.)
Acuña might have had the best day of any major leaguer in history. On Thursday morning, he married his girlfriend Maria in Los Angeles, at a venue about 45 minutes from the team’s hotel.
“Incredible,” Acuña said of the wedding. “We have such a beautiful family with two young boys growing up, and pray to God we can stay healthy as we continue to grow as a family.”
He kept the wedding private. His manager found out later in the day.
And his teammates?
“I might say what (Kevin Pillar) said: (The invitation) still might be in the mail,” Michael Harris II joked.
Hours later, Acuña put himself in the record books. When he crushed the grand slam, it silenced the crowd and gave Atlanta a jolt.
To this point, Acuña has had a dream season. Last season, he felt frustrated because he didn’t feel fully healthy after returning from ACL surgery. This year, Acuña is himself – and much more. He’s found an even better version of himself, which is a boost for the Braves and a nightmare for their foes.
“That’s the craziest part, because I guess when I was watching him (in high school), I thought I was seeing his full potential, and he was playing MVP baseball at that time,” said Harris, who was a big Acuña fan years before they played together. “And then now seeing him going even more. I feel like there might be a little bit more in the tank, too. It’s pretty scary and I’m glad I’m on his team, and not on the other side.”
In a season full of statistical feats for Acuña, this accomplishment – the first 30-60 season in history – is probably the pinnacle of it all, simply because, well, it had never been done. When members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America vote on regular-season awards in around a month, they might see this accomplishment as Acuña’s strongest case for National League MVP.
Again: No one had done it … until Acuña. He’s putting together one of the finest seasons the sport has ever seen.
Some players feature power. Others have speed.
It’s rare to find a combination of both. But that’s Acuña, who possesses all five tools.
Acuña is a tantalizing talent. He’s as fast as the light-hitting outfielder, but punishes baseballs like a slugging first baseman.
“I haven’t been here very long,” said Pierce Johnson, whom the Braves acquired in July. “But from afar, you always watch highlights of games and you’re just like, ‘Well, Acuña is doing crazy things still.’ But now that I get to watch him every single day, it’s incredible. He’s unbelievable, every single day. Every time he comes up to bat, you’re just excited to see what happens.”
Before Acuña, only three players had ever posted 25-60 seasons – at least 25 home runs with at least 60 stolen bases.
In 1973, Joe Morgan hit 26 home runs and stole 67 bases. In 1976, he had 27 homers and 60 stolen bases.
In 1986, Rickey Henderson finished with 28 home runs and 87 stolen bases.
During that same season, Eric Davis had 27 homers and 80 stolen bases.
In 1990, Henderson launched 28 homers and stole 65 bases.
Acuña has topped all of them – with a month to play. He has 29 games remaining in the regular season to add to his historic campaign.
“It’s something only he knows how to do, right?” Raisel Iglesias, who earned the save on Thursday, said through García. “He’s the one who has the talent and the ability to do that, and Ronald Acuna Jr. I felt like that gave me some extra focus in the game just because I felt like this beautiful moment deserved to be celebrated with the victory. I really wanted the team to be able to pull through so he can properly celebrate 30-60.”
Acuña can, and should, celebrate this. But he’ll almost certainly accomplish much more in his career.
And somehow, the outfielder with world-class talent continues improving.
“Baseball is a game that lends itself to continued growth and learning so I feel like that’s the kind of player that I am,” Acuña said. “I like to continue to grow, I like to continue to learn, I like to listen to my coaches, see what feedback they have and learn from them. I worked really hard this offseason to be ready, and that’s it. Just continue to work and be ready.”
What will he do next?
With Acuña, this might be the most fun question to ponder, because the possibilities are endless. He is one of a kind.
And now, he stands alone.
Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@
Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@