David Murphy: On Ronald Acuña Jr.'s injury, Bryce Harper's greatness, and the biggest reason to believe in the Phillies

David Murphy, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Baseball

This was going to be a column about Bryce Harper’s greatness, about the Thing that differentiates him from so many others to whom we ascribe that characteristic, about the way that Thing has manifested itself in the team that surrounds him. But, these being the 2024 Phillies, something else broke in their favor before I could finish writing.

The three scariest words in sports are noncontact knee injury. Ronald Acuña Jr. suffered one on Sunday afternoon. The Braves star tried to slam on the brakes after breaking for third base on a stolen-base attempt. His left leg gave out and he crumpled to the dirt. The early official word said merely that he had been removed from the game due to knee soreness. But, as you can see in the video of the play below, it did not look good.

Sure enough, on Sunday night, an MRI revealed a complete tear of his left anterior cruciate ligament, which requires season-ending surgery. Less than two months after losing ace Spencer Strider to an elbow injury, the Braves will now attempt to chase down the Phillies without the defending NL MVP, their unquestioned driving force.

Any time something like this happens, there is a natural impulse to react. It isn’t necessarily the heartless thing that many scolds portend it to be. It is totally within the realm of human capability to simultaneously: 1) Feel empathy for a great player on a rival team who suffers an injury; 2) Feel disappointment that said team will not be playing at full strength; 3) Wonder what it means for one’s own team.

In Acuña’s case, all three thoughts are unavoidable. He is unquestionably one of the small handful of players who single-handedly make a game worth watching. The defending MVP, he of the 41 home runs and 73 steals and 1.012 OPS last year, Acuña plays the game with a swagger and a flair that is both intoxicating and (intoxicatingly) maddening to witness. As such, he is a formative part of what the Phillies have become. Every good story needs an antagonist that makes the reader/viewer care about the battle being waged.

The Phillies would not have accomplished what they accomplished without Acuña. Not in a holistic sense. They would have accomplished something, sure. Advancing to the World Series and then another NLCS is an accomplishment. But would it have meant as much if they hadn’t done it by beating the big, bad Acuña-led Braves?


So, yes, it is a story.

But it is last year’s story.

And the year before that.

This year? The story is different. The Phillies have positioned themselves to write it all their own. The Braves are no longer a fixation, no longer a behemoth susceptible only to acts of God. They are one of a number of teams that have spent the last two months watching the Phillies establish themselves as the class of the National League.


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