Houston – Ronald Acuna Jr. made history with a leadoff home run to start things off for the Atlanta Braves in their NL Division Series opener against Miami.
And another hit — once more by the Marlins, this time with Sandy Alcantara’s fastball to the left hip — fired up the Braves and fueled their comeback in a 9-5 win Tuesday.
“I think it woke us up,” said Travis d’Arnaud, who launched a tiebreaking homer during Atlanta’s six-run rally in the seventh inning . “And we took advantage of that momentum.”
D’Arnaud also doubled and singled in driving in four runs and Dansby Swanson homered during the big comeback to help power Atlanta.
After shutting out Cincinnati for 22 innings during a two-game sweep in the wild-card round, the Braves relied on their bats in this opener. Game 2 of the best-of-five series is on Wednesday in Houston.
Acuna got things going for the Braves in the bottom of the first when he sent Alcantara’s second pitch into right-center for a homer. He watched it for a second before flipping his bat and rounding the bases as he became the youngest player (22 years, 293 days old) in postseason history with a leadoff home run.
Things turned testy in the third when Acuna was nailed by a 98 mph (158 kph) fastball. The showy All-Star outfielder held onto his bat and walked a few steps toward the mound before umpires and Braves coaches surrounded him and directed him away from Alcantara, who had started to walk toward him.
After a short delay, featuring plenty of chirping from both dugouts, Acuna took his base. Umpires warned the teams against further trouble.
There’s already been plenty – in 2018, when Acuna was a rookie and on a big homer-hitting streak, Jose Urena nailed him with a fastball on his first pitch.
He’s become a Marlins target over the years.
“I looked over to their bench and said, ‘It’s been five times,’” Acuna said through a translator. “At this point I think we’ve grown accustomed to it.”
Alcantara insisted he didn’t intend to hit Acuna and that Miami’s game plan is simply to pitch inside to him, but added some trash talk after the denial.
“If he’s ready to fight, I’m ready to fight, too,” Alcantara said.
Braves manager Brian Snitker said that even though he didn’t believe this pitch was on purpose, the Marlins have hit Acuna far too many times.
“You better be good at going in and not hitting him after a homer,” Snitker said.
Acuna and his teammates quickly got revenge.
The Braves trailed 4-3 in the seventh before Austin Riley and Acuna hit consecutive singles with no outs to chase Alcantara.
“As long as we’ve got a strike left we’re pretty dangerous,” Snitker said. “These guys can score a lot of runs in a hurry.”
And that’s exactly what they did.
Yimi Garcia took over and Freddie Freeman grounded into a forceout that left runners at the corners. Marcell Ozuna lined a single to left that made it 4-all.
Then d’Arnaud, in his first season with Atlanta, belted a slider over the fence in center field for a three-run drive that made it 7-4. The shot caused the Braves dugout to erupt with Acuña jumping over the railing to celebrate.
D’Arnaud, who played for the Mets, Dodgers and Rays last year, began the day as a .169 career hitter in the postseason, striking out 27 times in 83 at-bats.
But the Braves weren’t done yet.
James Hoyt replaced Garcia with one out and Swanson sent his first pitch off the wall in center field for a two-run homer.
“The tide kind of turned,” Miami manager Don Mattingly said. “We get that three-run lead, and then we give two runs right back. From there, really, we got stopped all day.”
Dodgers 5, Padres 1
In Arlington, Texas, Los Angeles had already drawn nine walks before Mookie Betts got the Dodgers their first hit with one out in the sixth inning. They went ahead to stay on Corey Seager’s sacrifice fly right after that to beat NL West rival San Diego in their Division Series opener.
Mike Clevinger made it only two pitches into the second inning in his postseason debut for the Padres before leaving hurt, and their heavily worked bullpen couldn’t keep putting up zeros — or keeping runners off base, even though San Diego gave up only four hits.
Rays 7, Yankees 5
In San Diego, Randy Arozarena, Mike Zunino, Manuel Margot and Austin Meadows hit home runs, and Tyler Glasnow struck out 10 to set a postseason record for Tampa Bay, which beat New York to even their AL Division Series at one game apiece.
The Rays had enough pop to overcome a huge game by Giancarlo Stanton, who had two home runs and four RBIs.
Yoshitomo Tsutsugo was 0-for-1 for Tampa.
Astros 5, Athletics 2
In Los Angeles, George Springer hit two home runs and Houston kept making more noise in the playoffs, beating Oakland to take a 2-0 lead in their AL Division Series.
Martin Maldonado also went deep for the Astros, who need one win to reach their fourth straight AL Championship Series. Game 3 is Wednesday, when Houston becomes the home team in the neutral-site matchup.