Winning is nice, a shutout is cool and extending a winning streak is encouraging, but I know what you’re here for.
The Braves beat the Marlins 1-0 at Truist Park on Friday night, but there was really only one moment in that game worth spending a lot of time on. Positives and negatives from the game go by the wayside; this entire game started and ended on one pitch in the bottom of the first. Pablo Lopez hit Ronald Acuña Jr. on the first pitch a Braves hitter saw in the game, the sixth time in less than three calendar years a Miami pitcher has hit Acuña.
Lopez became the fifth different Miami pitcher to do it,, joining Jose Ureña (twice), Javy Guerra, Elieser Hernández and Sandy Alcantara. This has happened during games in Atlanta, Miami and on a neutral site in Houston. This has happened both in regular and postseason games, in the first inning (three times), third inning, fourth inning and seventh inning. The scores at the time have ranged everywhere from a 5-0 Atlanta lead in 2018 to a 4-1 Miami lead last October to 0-0 tonight. Braves up, Marlins up, tied, doesn’t matter.
It’s a slot machine where the score, venue, and pitcher are different each time this happens. The only constant is the man pulling the lever, and that’s Don Mattingly.
Once is an accident, twice is a fluke, six times is a deliberate attempt to injure an opposing player. And at this point, that’s what this is.Mattingly can say it’s just a part of baseball, or that he doesn’t have a deliberate attempt to cause harm or that the ball slipped.
The reality is, every single time this happens there is a chance for it to go horribly wrong. You only have to look at what happened to Kevin Pillar earlier this season at Truist Park to see how dangerous this sport is, and that was an incident that didn’t have any intent attached to it. Every time Mattingly makes this decision,, there is a chance his pitcher could miss his spot and lead to something severe.
Whatever point he thinks he’s making about respecting the game or not celebrating home runs or whatever else he brought with him from the 1980s is a safety risk at this point. And it’s not fair to his pitchers, especially an established, credible starting pitcher like Pablo Lopez tonight who was only in the game to carry out his manager’s agenda against Acuña.
Ultimately, the only thing that matters is Acuña’s safety. Every other piece of this conversation is trivial if the player in question feels like he is in danger of getting hit every single time he steps to the plate against Miami. It’s incumbent on both the league and the umpires handling these games to do everything in their power to make sure Ronald—and every other player on the field—is safe.
And in fairness to the umpires, they did what had to be done by ejecting both Mattingly and Lopez. Hopefully that is enough to make the sixth time the final time, but I’m not confident in that. Something tells me we’re going to right back here having this same conversation at some point down the road.
As for those trivial factors below player safety, it was nice to know Don Mattingly’s antics cost his team the game tonight. Acuña came around to score in the first inning on an Ozzie Albies sacrifice fly, and that was the only run of the ballgame.
Drew Smyly was good enough to navigate the lineup twice, Luke Jackson and Will Smith escaped respective jams and the Braves just about held on to take the first game of the series.
Hopefully game two is much more straightforward.