The Braves benched Ronald Acuna in the fifth inning of Sunday’s matinee against the Dodgers after the All-Star outfielder didn’t run out a hit.
“He didn’t run,” manager Brian Snitker said. “You have to run. It’s not going to be acceptable here. As a teammate, you’re responsible for 24 other guys. That name on the front is a lot more important than the name on the back of that jersey.”
In the third inning, Acuna appeared to have a two-run homer. He stood and admired the ball, which ultimately bounced off the wall instead of landing in the seats.
» Michael Cunningham: Message to Acuna, ‘You’ve got to run’
Acuna ended up at first base, while Max Fried, who was at second, got stuck at third rather than running home. It was a sequence of base-running blunders for a team usually smart and aggressive in that department.
“You can’t do that,” Snitker said of Acuna. “We’re trying to accomplish something special here. Personal things have to be put on the backburner. You can’t let your team down like that.”
Making matters worse, Acuna tried to steal second — which would’ve notched his 30-30 season — and was thrown out. Snitker spoke with Acuna in the dugout stairs in the fourth inning, electing to remove him from the game.
Snitker said Acuna was “mature” in handling the conversation.
“He owned up to it,” he said. “He knew he screwed up. And good for him. It’s over, he’ll learn from it and we’ll go forward and everybody will be better for it.”
Acuna’s take on the incident, as translated by team interpreter Franco Garcia: “I obviously wasn’t thinking. I respect Snit’s decision. He’s the manager. ... He just told me the reason it was happening is because I didn’t run that one out. There’s no excuse for it, so I just took it and said ‘of course.’ He’s the manager, I’m the player, and I’ll ultimately respect his decision.”
Snitker immediately knew he’d remove Acuna, but he left him in to handle center field in the fourth inning. That was because Adam Duvall needed time to get stretched out and ready to enter the game. Snitker said it would have been “unfair” to force Duvall into action on such short notice.
Rafael Ortega shifted over the center and Duvall entered the game in left field after Acuna was pulled. Ortega would go on to hit the game-winning grand slam in the sixth, and the 5-3 victory secured the Braves’ series win over Los Angeles.
The events of Sunday will be remembered, just as Bobby Cox benching a 21-year-old Andruw Jones for lackadaisical play in the outfield in 1998 is still referenced today.
In the end, the Braves won a series over the only National League club with a better record than them. And through Snitker’s and the team’s point of view, a lesson resonated along the way.
“I’ve always tried to play baseball hard,” Acuna said when asked what he learned. “I just need to continue to play hard.”
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