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Ronald Acuña Jr.’s lack of hustle proves costly for Braves

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It was only two months ago that Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. was benched for a lack of hustle. In mid-August, Acuña gawked at what he thought was a home run. The ball, however, stayed in the yard so he had to settle for a long single. Manager Brian Snitker removed him from the game not long afterwards.

Acuña apparently didn’t learn his lesson because the same thing happened, this time in a playoff game. Acuña led off the bottom of the seventh inning of NLDS Game 1 against the Cardinals with the Braves leading 3-1. He slapped a John Brebbia offering down the right field line. Either because he thought it was a home run or because he wasn’t sure if it would stay fair, Acuña watched the ball travel in the air rather than running hard. The ball caromed off of the right field fence. Dexter Fowler played the carom and fired the ball on one hop to second base, leaving Acuña with a long single.

Acuña moved to second base on an Ozzie Albies ground out. He should have been on third base instead, and it proved costly. Lefty Andrew Miller entered, eventually putting Freddie Freeman on first base after hitting him with a pitch. Josh Donaldson then hit a sharp liner to shortstop Paul DeJong. Acuña was too far off the second base bag when the 104 MPH line drive was caught, so he was doubled off to end the inning. If he had been on third base instead, he wouldn’t have been doubled off. Thus, the Braves would have had another opportunity to pad their lead.

The Cardinals rallied for two runs to tie the game at 3-3 in the top of the eighth, then plated four runs in the ninth en route to a 7-6 victory. Acuña added a two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth, his third hit of the night, but the Braves’ rally came up short.

Snitker could not have benched his team’s best player in the middle of a playoff game, and he can’t bench him ahead of an upcoming playoff game, either. One, however, imagines Snitker and Acuña will have a conversation about the lack of hustle following Thursday’s loss.

Update (9:34 PM ET): Freeman wasn’t happy about it. Per The Athletic’s David O’Brien:

Astros claim AL pennant with walk-off win against the Yankees

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Following a rollercoaster performance on Saturday, the Astros clinched the American League Championship Series with a decisive 6-4 walk-off win against the Yankees, claiming their second AL pennant and earning a well-deserved entrance to the World Series.

Both clubs decided to preserve possible Game 7 starters Luis Severino and Gerrit Cole, electing to have a “bullpen day” for a pivotal Game 6. Chad Green took the mound for the Yankees, tossing one inning before handing the ball off to a long line of relievers, while Brad Peacock‘s rare playoff start was capped at 1 2/3 innings. According to ESPN Stats & Info, that made it the first postseason game since 1999 in which neither starting pitcher lasted two innings or longer.

All told, the two clubs utilized a total of 13 pitchers to make it through nine innings. The Astros lost Ryan Pressly to a worrisome knee injury in the third, but were able to lean on José Urquidy for 2 2/3 innings of one-run, five-strikeout ball. Although Yankees’ bullpen fought back in every inning, they had considerable difficulty recovering from Yuli Gurriel‘s three-run homer off of Green in the bottom of the first:

Still, New York managed to get in a couple of knocks as well: first, with Gary Sanchez‘s RBI single in the second inning, then with Gio Urshela‘s 395-foot blast in the fourth inning — the second of his postseason career to date. That wasn’t enough to close the gap, however, and Alex Bregman‘s productive groundout in the sixth helped cushion the Astros’ lead as they headed toward the final few innings of the series.

That lead started to look a little shaky in the ninth. Only three outs away from a ticket to the World Series, Houston closer Roberto Osuna gave up a leadoff single to Urshela, which was quickly followed by a jaw-dropping, full-count, game-tying two-run shot from DJ LeMahieu that barely cleared the right field fence.

With the threat of extra innings and a potential loss looming, the Astros engineered a last-minute rally to regain the lead and stake their claim for the pennant. With two outs and no runners on, George Springer took a five-pitch walk from Aroldis Chapman. In the next at-bat, Houston pinned their hopes on José Altuve — and he didn’t disappoint, lifting a 2-1 slider out to left field for a 406-foot, two-RBI homer that confirmed the Astros’ series win.

The 2019 World Series will mark the third Fall Classic appearance for the Astros and the first for the Nationals. It all begins on Tuesday night.