Ronald Acuna needed only five pitches to get loose. And when he did, he delivered.
Acuna, the second-year Braves outfielder, faced a 2-2 count Monday night during the Braves’ first at-bat of the game. On the ensuing pitch, Acuna leaned, lifted his left leg and thrust his torso into the swing.
The ball, clocked at 93 mph off the fingertips of New Yorks Mets pitcher Zack Wheeler’s right hand, sailed high and left. Mets outfielder Jeff McNeil ran to try to catch the ball, attempting to scale the wall for the first out, potentially setting the tone for the ensuing three-game series. But by then, the ball had drifted 390 feet, and landed about 15 feet above McNeil’s outstretched glove into the hungry arms of fans at Sun Trust Park on an 86-degree summer night.
With a smile on his face, Acuna rounded the bases, his gold chains swinging around his neck, as made hand gestures to his dugout. It was Acuna’s third leadoff home run of the season, and the 11th of his career. It also marked his 17th home run this season. That sudden burst of scoring propelled the Braves to an early 1-0 lead, and foreshadowed the rest of the game. Following Acuna’s offensive lead the Braves defeated the Mets 12-3.
“When you’re outside of the team and you watch him play, he’s next level,” said catcher Brian McCann, Acuna’s veteran teammate and a seven-time All Star. “When you get in here and see him go about his business, he’s a superstar. There’s not one thing he can’t do on a baseball field.”
Acuna added two RBIs from three total hits, tying his season-best streak with nine. The 21-year-old from Venezuela, also the reigning National League Rookie of the Year, holds the Braves’ record for most leadoff home runs in a season. He hit eight last year, and could be on track to break that record, as more than 80 games remain in the regular season. He also has the third most All Star votes (1,229,200) for his position, as of Monday.
This year, Acuna has held the leadoff position for just over a month, and recently, the Braves’ offense has exploded. The Braves hold a 60-39 record when Acuna bats at the top of the lineup. Manager Brian Snitker said Acuna’s performances as of late are energizers to get the team started.
“Anytime you have a guy that can go up there and put you ahead at the first swing of the bat, it’s good,” he said. “His at bats have been really good, he’s getting good decisions and he can jump start us in a hurry, that’s for sure.”