WASHINGTON — The Atlanta Braves clinched their latest playoff berth with heavy hearts.
Ronald Acuña Jr. ignited the decisive four-run rally with the go-ahead, two-run double in the seventh inning, and the National League East-leading Braves wrapped up a spot in the postseason with a 10-1 victory over the Washington Nationals on Saturday. The victory also eliminated the Philadelphia Phillies from winning the NL East.
There was no celebrating in the visitors' clubhouse afterward, though, as the team remained concerned about utility player Charlie Culberson, who was struck directly on the right cheekbone by a 91 mph fastball in the seventh inning on the first pitch by Nationals reliever Fernando Rodney.
Culberson, a former standout at Calhoun High School in northwest Georgia, was helped to his feet with a towel pressed to his face and taken off the field on the back of a cart.
"He was good when he went to the hospital. I mean, he was alert and all of that stuff," Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said of Culberson, who was pinch-hitting for starting pitcher Mike Foltynewicz with two runners on and no outs with the score tied at 1. "We just don't any of the extent of what's going on yet. We are just praying for him and his family. That's scary."
After Culberson was attended to, Snitker launched into a tirade against umpire crew chief Tim Timmons. It got the manager thrown out of a game for the 13th time in his tenure, including four ejections this season.
Timmons assessed Culberson a strike because he squared up to bunt. The ball never made contact with the bat.
"You can't bunt when the ball is coming at your face," Snitker said. "That just sounds like My God. I am not going to even get into that. I am sitting there looking at this guy's pooling blood on the ground. And I am like, 'Come on.'"
Snitker was much more subdued after the game, at one point becoming choked up and nearly shedding a tear while talking about Culberson. His players shared the sentiment.
"It was very tough to see that. He's a phenomenal human being. One of the best teammates you could have," Foltynewicz said. "I look up to him as a father. He actually has three kids. It his kid's birthday today, one of them. I want to be just like him as a father."
The Braves (93-57) did not miss a beat after Culberson was taken off the field and seemed to rally behind their fallen teammate. Acuña and Ozzie Albies hit back-to-back doubles that drove in runs and ignited another bullpen meltdown for the Nationals.
Wander Suero (5-8) was charged with the loss. The bullpen gave up nine runs over the final four innings for the second-place Nationals (81-66).
Foltynewicz (7-5) earned the win after tossing six solid innings, allowing an earned run on four hits and striking out five. The Braves have won the past 11 games he has started dating to June 11.
Atlanta will be making consecutive postseason appearances for the first time since completing the feat in 2013. The Braves reduced their magic number to clinch their 19th NL East title to four. They also won five division titles as members of the NL West prior to realignment.
Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman (right elbow soreness) was back in the lineup after leaving Friday's game in the fourth inning for precautionary reasons. He was hitless in four at-bats with a strikeout and an intentional walk. Freeman said he knew he was good to go when he raised his arm in the shower to wash his hair.