Jose Urena apparently was not going to let Ronald Acuna Jr. hit a leadoff home run for a fourth straight game. On the first pitch he threw Wednesday, the Marlins starter plunked Acuna, causing the Atlanta and Miami dugouts to empty as the Braves’ phenom winced at the pain in his left elbow.
After the scene settled down, the umpires conferred and ejected Urena, who hit Acuna with a fastball measured at 97.5 mph, from the game. Braves Manager Brian Snitker, who had reacted angrily to the incident, was also tossed.
“This young man is just playing the game, doing what he loves to do,” Snitker said afterward of Acuna, “and it’s a damn shame, what happened on that first pitch of the game.” He said the umpires made the “right decision” to eject Urena, “because it was obvious that that was intended to hit him.”
Acuna had hit leadoff homers in his three previous games, all against the Marlins, including a doubleheader Monday. That made the 20-year-old rookie just the fourth MLB player to do so in a doubleheader, following the Red Sox’ Harry Hooper (1913), the A’s Rickey Henderson (1993) and the Orioles’ Brady Anderson (1999).
With another leadoff clout Tuesday, Acuna became youngest player in MLB history to homer in five straight games, and he went deep again in that game, a 10-6 Braves win. That gave Acuna eight homers in his past eight games, a span in which he batted .471 with an eye-popping 1.749 OPS.
The hot streak raised Acuna’s batting average for the season to .288, and he entered Wednesday’s game with 19 home runs, 43 RBI and a .922 OPS in 67 games. However, having initially stayed in the game, Acuna’s injured left arm forced him to leave the field in the top of the second inning, and it remains to be seen how much more time he may miss.
It also remains to be seen what further punishment, if any, is levied by MLB in the wake of Urena’s pitch. After the game, a 5-2 Braves win, Marlins Manager Don Mattingly said that Urena likes to start off batters with inside pitches, and that the pitcher told him he was trying to back Acuna off the plate.
“He’s beat us up,” Mattingly said of Acuna’s scorching bat, “but this is not the way we want to handle that situation. Obviously, this is not something that we represent, or believe in as an organization. Or myself, too, because I would never want that kid getting hit.”
Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman told reporters that that his team considered Urena solely responsible for the plunking, saying, “It was completely classless on Jose Urena’s part. … What Jose did tonight was not acceptable.” He added, “It was clearly intentional, and it wasn’t right.”
Urena may have succeeded in preventing Acuna from hitting a fourth leadoff home run against his Marlins, but the Atlanta star’s streak is officially intact, because of MLB rules relating to the fact that he was hit by a pitch in his only plate appearance.
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