Acuna Jr. becomes first 40-70 player as Braves edge Cubs
ATLANTA (AP) — Ronald Acuña Jr. slid into second base ahead of the throw, adding another slice of history to an already unprecedented season. He grabbed the bag and hoisted it above his head, soaking up the cheers from the home crowd after becoming the charter member of the 40-70 club.
A short time later, Acuña rounded third and barreled for for home, diving headfirst across the plate with the run that gave the Atlanta Braves another comeback victory — and provided baseball's most thrilling player with his MVP statement.
“It's really an incredible moment,” Acuña said through an interpreter, his two young sons squirming in his arms after a celebratory soaking from his teammates.
Ozzie Albies drove in Acuña with a 10th-inning single that clinched home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs for the Braves, who dealt the faltering Chicago Cubs another devastating setback by rallying time and time again for a 6-5 victory Wednesday night.
Acuña delivered a run-scoring single that tied the game at 5, then immediately took off for second to swipe his second base of the night and 70th this season. With 41 homers, he already had become just the fifth player in baseball history with 40 homers and 40 steals.
No one else has reached 40-50.
Or, now, 40-70.
“MVP,” teammate Marcell Ozuna said. “There is no doubt.”
This was a moment Acuña has been aiming for all along, though he admitted it seemed a bit farfetched.
It's one thing for a slugger to hit 40 homers. Or a speedster to swipe 70 bases.
But one player doing it all?
“It's one of those numbers that wasn't impossible but seemed impossible,” Acuña said. "Thankfully, we were able to get it done.”
It was especially poignant to score the winning run on such an exhilarating night, the NL East champion Braves coming back from deficits of 3-1, 4-3 and 5-4 to claim their 102nd victory this season.
“That was the most important thing,” Acuña said. “We were able to change the momentum there and take over the game and win the game. It felt like a playoff atmosphere. Hopefully we can take that into the postseason.”
The Cubs are on the verge of squandering their postseason hopes.
Chicago dropped into a tie with Miami for the NL's third and final wild card at 82-76. The Cubs blew a six-run lead in Tuesday's series opener, capped by Seiya Suzuki dropping a routine fly ball that handed the Braves a 7-6 victory.
This time, Marcell Ozuna hit a tying homer in the ninth to set the table for Acuña and Albies, who came through with the tying and game-winning hits off Daniel Palencia (5-3).
Albies also homered for the Braves. Jesse Chavez (1-0) earned the win.
Chicago starter Jameson Taillon allowed three hits over six-plus innings, retiring 17 of 18 hitters at one point. Mike Tauchman and Ian Happ homered for the Cubs, and Happ put Chicago ahead 5-4 with a sacrifice fly in the top half of the 10th.
For the second night in a row, it wasn't enough against relentless Atlanta.
Darius Vines made his second big league start for the injury plagued Braves, who are down two starting pitchers in the final days of the regular season. He went six innings, surrendering four hits and two earned runs.
Braves manager Brian Snitker was ejected in the second after the umps botched the call on a checked swing by Jeimer Candelario, allowing the Cubs to tie the game at 1.
The replay clearly showed that Candelario's bat fouled the ball off, but the umpires did not detect the contact and the play was not subject to video review.
As catcher Sean Murphy was reaching back to umpire Shane Livensparger for another baseball, the one that Candelario struck rolled to the backstop. Cody Bellinger trotted home from third on what was ruled a passed ball.
Tauchman launched a 402-foot drive into the Chop House restaurant in right field for his eighth homer this season. Two batters later, Happ sent one even deeper over the center-field wall for his 20th homer.
In the end, it was Acuña's night.
As so many nights have been this season.
“I got goosebumps,” Albies said. “A dream come true for him.”
The homers by Albies and Ozuna pushed the Braves to 303 for the season, closing in on the major league record of 307 set by the Minnesota Twins in 2019.
The New York Yankees, who hit 306 homers in 2019, are the only other team with more than 300 in a season.
3 MILLION CLUB
The crowd of 37,246 pushed the Braves over 3 million in attendance for the second season in a row and eighth time in team history.
Atlanta has drawn 3,027,426 for the year and, with four home games remaining should easily pass the Truist Park record of 3,129,931 set a year ago.
The Braves exceeded 3 million fans twice at Atlanta Fulton-Country Stadium (1992 and 1993) and in their first four seasons at Turner Field (1997-2000).
Cubs: 1B Candelario (back) returned to the lineup after being activated from the injured list before the game. He played for the first time since Sept. 10.
Braves: LH Max Fried is on schedule in dealing with a recurring blister that sent him to the 15-day injured list. The team hopes Fried will be able to rejoin the roster for the NL Division Series, which begins Oct. 7. “It's healing,” Snitker said. “He's got tape on it, he's throwing. It's progressing. He's right where they thought he would be."
RH Marcus Stroman (10-8, 3.88 ERA) goes for the Cubs in the series finale Thursday. The Braves will call up rookie AJ Smith-Shawver (1-0, 4.57) to make his fifth start of the season.
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