If the Miami Marlins are the Cinderellas of this baseball postseason, they maybe should have considered how the fairy tale would have turned out had the heroine taken off her glass slippers and hurled them at her stepsisters.
Braves catcher Travis d'Arnaud and starting pitcher Max Fried might not have been reading fairy tales on Tuesday, but they both credited yet another incident in which a Marlins pitcher plunked star Ronald Acuna Jr. with helping the National League East champions overcome a slow start, as Atlanta came from behind to beat Miami 9-5 in Game 1 of their NL Division Series.
"I think it woke us up," d'Arnaud said. "We obviously know what happened earlier in the year and even years prior with Ronnie. That definitely woke us up, and we took advantage of that momentum and got the win today."
The Braves grabbed an early lead when Acuna homered to lead off the bottom of the first and tossed his bat after walking slowly up the first-base line while watching the ball leave the yard.
However, Miami responded with four runs off Fried, Atlanta's ace and an NL Cy Young Award front-runner. For the upstart Marlins, it was a momentum-building start for a club projected before the season to contend more for the top overall pick in the draft than a playoff spot.
With the Marlins riding high from the early 4-1 lead, Miami starter Sandy Alcantara hit Acuna with a pitch with one out and no one on in the third inning. When stories about bad blood between the Marlins and Braves made the rounds before the series, most of it stemmed from similar incidents. Acuna has now been hit by a pitch from a Marlins hurler five times in his career. No other club has clipped him more than twice.
Acuna walked toward the mound after being hit, but then went to first base without saying anything, according Alcantara, who added that he did not take exception to Acuna's post-homer bat toss.
"Something happened," Alcantara said. "I just tried to go inside and I hit him. I don't know why they think every time we hit Acuna, it's [on] purpose. We always try to pitch inside to him."
The umpiring crew issued warnings to both teams after the incident, and Braves manager Brian Snitker raced onto the field in anger. After the game, Snitker said his ire was the product of a combination of factors: the history between the teams, the fact that it was Acuna and the umpire's warning, which could have resulted in the ejection of a pitcher on either team if another batter had been hit.
"He hit a long homer and got hit with a 97 [mph pitch]," Snitker said. "My reaction wasn't good. It was unfortunate. I guarantee [Alcantara] wasn't trying to hit him. But if you're going to go in, you make sure you don't hit him. It comes to a point where if you keep dinging that kid, the middle of the plate is taken away. It's happening too much to [Acuna]."
Marlins manager Don Mattingly added: "I knew he didn't hit him on purpose, but Acuna, you can't just lay the ball over the plate."
Still, coincidence or not, intentional or not, the Atlanta offense perked up after Acuna was struck.
"You don't think he was doing it on purpose, but you want to stand behind your teammates," Fried said. "You want to be supportive. Obviously, it lit a bit of a fire under us, and we were able to get going. I think it was a little bit of motivation."
One batter after Acuna was hit, the Braves got back-to-back doubles to cut the Miami lead to 4-3, with Marcell Ozuna and d'Arnaud collecting the RBIs. Alcantara settled down, and Miami still led until he was chased when Austin Riley and Acuna singled to start the Braves' seventh.
That's when the dam broke loose for the Marlins. With hard-throwing righty Yimi Garcia in from the Miami bullpen, Ozuna singled to tie the game. Then d'Arnaud came up with the game's biggest blow, hammering a three-run homer to center field, putting Atlanta ahead 7-4. Dansby Swanson capped the six-run rally with a two-run homer, and the Braves cruised to the Game 1 win.
"As long as we have a strike left, we're pretty dangerous," Snitker said. "We got down, but with a lot of the game to work with, these guys can score a lot of runs in a hurry, as we saw."
The Acuna-Alcantara incident was the hot topic in postgame interviews, even as the interviewees mostly acknowledged that upon reviewing the pitch, Alcantara's offering was as he described -- an attempt to go inside that got away. Then again, for Acuna, it was a familiar outcome.
"I guess you could say I've gotten used to it at this point," Acuna said via an interpreter. "But I'm not going to give it any more thought. I'm going to keep myself focused on my game and what we have coming up."
With the win, everything turned out well for the Braves, which is probably the best revenge of all, if there was revenge to be had. Whether it was the hit by pitch or simply that the Atlanta offense was one that finished one run behind the Dodgers for the big league lead in regular-season scoring, one thing was clear: Acuna is not about to be daunted by the Marlins.
After the game, Acuna tweeted, "They have to hit me, because they don't get me out."
They have to hit me , because they don't get me out 🤫🤫🤫— Ronald Acuna Jr (@ronaldacunajr24) October 6, 2020
He also took to his Instagram account to post a picture of him tossing the bat after the first-inning home run and captioned it: "I'd like to take this time to apologize to absolutely NOBODY."
When asked to clarify the Instagram caption, Acuna simply reiterated, "I really don't have much to say. I just really don't think I have anything to apologize for."