Freddie Freeman earned himself a big chunk of the glory with his tie-breaking dong in Sunday night’s 6-5 Braves win over the Dodgers, but Atlanta might not have even been close to taking the lead in the sixth inning of Game 3 had it not been for the 20-year-old sensation Ronald Acuña Jr., who’s doing everything he can to keep his team from bowing out of the postseason quietly.
Everybody with an A on their hat was awful in the Braves’ 6-0 loss to start the series, so we can ignore that. But in Game 2—a 3-0 Braves defeat—Acuña was the lone bright spot. At the beginning of what wound up being a gem of a start from Clayton Kershaw, Acuña hit a lead-off double before being stranded at third, and with his team down against Kenley Jansen with one out in the bottom of the ninth, he singled to give his team some thin hope. It may not sound like much, but those two hits doubled the total of everyone else on the team combined.
Acuña and the Braves finally made an actual mark on the scoreboard in the second inning of Game 3 against Dodgers pitcher Walker Buehler. Buehler walked Nick Markakis, struck out two consecutive Braves, and then was overwhelmed in what wound up being a five-run lightning strike. Acuña came up with the bases loaded, after Buehler had already walked home a run. The kid took four straight pitches, the last of which was way above the strike zone and should have been ball four. It was called a strike, though, and on the fifth pitch of the at-bat, Acuña made the Dodgers pay for the umpire’s mistake, launching a grand salami into left center for what amounted to two-thirds of the Braves’ runs in the game.
The Braves have looked hopelessly overmatched for most of this series. Their bats were entirely impotent against Hyun-Jin Ryu and Kershaw in the first two games, and fifth-inning dingers from Christopher Taylor and Maxwell Muncy against the Atlanta bullpen on Sunday quickly snuffed out the electricity in the ballpark until Freeman came through to just barely deliver the win. The broader prognosis still doesn’t look good, and Atlanta desperately needs a bounce-back start from Mike Foltynewicz in Game 4 just to make it through the day. But at least the Braves know they can count on Acuña, the team’s youngest player and already among its best, to be up to the moment.