On Friday against the Nationals, Acuña led off the game with a line drive into the left-field seats for his 40th home run, which went with the 68 stolen bases he had when he walked up to the plate.
When the ball landed in the stands, Acuña became the only player in MLB history to hit at least 40 home runs and steal at least 60 bases in a season. Acuña already made history on Aug. 31, when he homered at Dodger Stadium to become the only player with a 30-60 season.
“It’s pretty incredible, just to think of how many players have played in the big leagues, and my name’s alone,” Acuña said through interpreter Franco García after Friday’s win. “But I’m hoping, and I’m sure, someone will break that record, too.”
Acuña on Friday also joined the prestigious 40-40 club, which consists of only five players: Acuña, Alfonso Soriano (2006), Alex Rodriguez (1998), Barry Bonds (1996) and Jose Canseco (1988).
He could also soon be the only member of the 40-70 club.
His name could be alone for a long time.
“He may be blazing trails that nobody will go to again,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said.
“Amazing,” Marcell Ozuna said. “I’m proud of him.”
In 2019, Acuña blasted a career-high 41 homers. But he only stole 37 bases. This season, he stole his 37th base on June 30, in his 81st game of the season. The question became: Would he hit enough homers to post a 40-40 season?
At Dodger Stadium, Acuña pulverized his 30th. Then his 31st. Then his 32nd. On Sept. 5, he returned home needing eight homers over the final few weeks. He did it with eight games remaining.
“If I’m going to be completely honest, I didn’t think I was going to be able to get it this year, just because I knew I was hitting well, but I wasn’t really getting a lot of homers,” Acuña said. “It feels incredible that we’re standing here today and it’s accomplished.”
On Friday night, Kelvim Escobar – Acuña’s cousin who is a former big-league pitcher – posted a video on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. In Acuña’s hometown of La Sabana, Venezuela, people who had gathered for a watch party were celebrating. They went wild as Acuña rounded the bases on a big screen in front of them.
As Acuña trotted around the bases, he screamed, “La Sabana! La Sabana!” in honor of his hometown.
“It’s incredible,” Acuña said of the support from his hometown. “I’ve always wanted to make my people proud, and I feel like I have, and I know that they’re proud of every ballplayer that’s ever come out of there.”
Think back to last season. In spring training, Acuña hoped to return as soon as he could from surgery to repair his ACL. He didn’t know the challenges or struggles he would encounter. He only wanted to play baseball.
When he came back, he battled his body. He dealt with knee inflammation and soreness. The Braves and Acuña had to manage this situation. This was perhaps the first time the superstar didn’t fully trust his body. He couldn’t count on his superhuman athleticism.
In 2023, he has reached new heights. He is the best version of himself. He’s lived up to expectations, and has probably even exceeded them. And on Friday, his perseverance resulted in a historic moment. After he hit the homer, he wasn’t sure if he was more excited or nervous while rounding the bases.
“I’m just happy for him, after everything he went through last year – just grinding through it all and going through all the inflammation, the pain, everything that he played through, and now to have a healthy year,” Snitker said. “I guarantee you: It’s like, when players have that and they get hurt and all, they really start appreciating things in the game.”
Added Ozuna: “The way that he comes in every day and plays, and the talent that he has – everyone that has known him for a long time knows what he can do. The season that he’s having this year after surgery and all of that stuff two years ago, and he does that, the (sky is the limit).”
In the future, Acuña can accomplish something else that’s never been done: None of the four players he joined in the 40-40 club had multiple such seasons. In that way, Acuña could stand alone if he can repeat this season. With all the talent in the world, anything is possible for him.
For now, the present calls. In October and November, Acuña hopes to win a World Series. (Remember, he was injured when the Braves won it all in 2021.) After that, he should win the National League MVP Award.
“He’s the MVP for sure, no doubt,” Ozuna said.
He’s accomplished so much this season, but there’s still so much to do.
When he blasted the 116 mph, history-making missile off Patrick Corbin on Friday, he immediately began excitedly running toward first base. He held his bat in his right hand almost the entire way there as he watched the ball land, then dropped that bat and put up his left arm in celebration. As he rounded the bases, he appeared to be yelling in excitement as he pumped his arms at different points throughout his trot.
As much as he celebrates, Acuña is usually rather composed and calm while running. You could tell there was extra excitement this time – and understandably so. The Braves’ superstar wrote his name into the history books.
This time, Acuña didn’t chase down a record. He simply added to his own.
And everyone in the future will be chasing his record.
“He’s making history,” Snitker said. “I’m happy for him.”