To say the SunTrust Park crowd was unhappy to see Adam Duvall pinch-hit for Mike Foltynewicz with two out in the seventh is to understate by the power of a hundred. There were gasps. There were boos. Had Duvall made an out and the Braves’ bullpen blown a second game in two days, Brian Snitker would have had to shutter his Twitter account.
(Not that Brian Snitker has a Twitter account, but work with me.)
History will note that Adam Duvall did not make an out. He hit a home run. The Braves won 3-0. Brian Snitker, genius.
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Of the audience’s response to lifting Foltynewicz for Duvall, Snitker said: “It was a Boo/Yay moment.”
Said Duvall: “I knew they didn’t want him to come out of the game. We didn’t, either.”
After the sound and fury of Thursday’s Game 1, Friday’s Game 2 was a sedate affair. The Braves scratched out an early run off the lately untouchable Jack Flaherty – on an Ozzie Albies infield hit, a wild pitch and Josh Donaldson’s RBI single – and Foltynewicz, the 2018 All-Star who spent a month in the summer of 2019 in Triple-A, clung to it like grim death.
Foltynewicz threw 81 pitches over seven innings. He struck out seven, all on sliders. He walked nobody. He was touched for three hits, all singles. Only once did the Cardinals push a man to second base, and that was with help of an error. He outpitched Flaherty, which nobody has done since the All-Star break, in a game the Braves had to have.
Snitker on Foltynewicz: “It’s pretty cool to see that for a guy who went through what he’s gone through this year. ... He did exactly what we needed him to do tonight.”
As for Flaherty: His first postseason start was good but not great.He bounced his second pitch. He threw another past Yadier Molina to allow Albies to move up a base. That skinny run held up for six innings. Still, the memory of Game 1, in which the Cardinals scored six times on eight hits in the final two innings, was jagged. What fresh hell might await the Braves if Foltynewicz was pulled and the game still 1-nil?
With two out in the seventh and Brian McCann at first base, Snitker dispatched Duvall, a right-handed hitter, against the right-handed Flaherty, who’d thrown more than 100 pitches. The count ran full, Duvall swinging and missing twice on sliders. He fouled off another slider. Flaherty then threw a fastball. Duvall, who himself spent much of the season at Gwinnett, drove it 423 feet over the center-field wall.
Snitker on Duvall: “He’d had a home run off Flaherty before.”
Duvall: “Really? I didn’t know that.”
(It came July 25 of last season, just before the Reds traded Duvall here.)
Flaherty was allowed to finish the seventh, which made little sense. He threw a season-high 117 pitches, which could come into play if he’s needed to start a Game 5. The Braves managed eight hits off him, the most of any team since the Oakland A’s had nine on June 25. That was 18 starts ago.
Say this for the Braves: They can beat top-shelf pitchers. Add Flaherty to a list that includes Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, Jacob deGrom, Aaron Nola and Hyun-Jin Ryu. They grind out at-bats. They can make it tough on anybody. That’s kind of why they’re here.
Say this, too: When Foltynewicz’s slider is on point, he’s top-shelf, too. The inefficiency of that slider was why he was demoted in June. Even so, there was one night – May 24 in St. Louis – that reminded the Braves there was still a real pitcher in there somewhere. Foltynewicz worked six innings with no earned runs and seven strikeouts. Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos said it was the most excited he’d been all season.
The Braves had concerns about their rotation coming north from spring training. Anibal Sanchez was gone to Washington. Mike Soroka was coming off a season shuttered by shoulder discomfort. Max Fried was still seen as a long reliever more than a starter. Foltynewicz, however, figured to be a staple. He’d been an All-Star and the Braves’ Game 1 (and 4) starter in the NLDS. He’d broken through. Then he went backward.
He missed much of spring training with elbow soreness. His first big-league start didn’t come until April 27. After five outings, his ERA was 6.91. It was 6.37 when the exasperated Braves shipped him to Gwinnett, which was their way of saying, “Figure it out yourself.” Well, he figured it out. He ended the season strongly – his ERA was 1.50 ERA in September – and forced his way into the postseason rotation. On Friday, he might have saved the Braves’ season.
As for the bullpen: It couldn’t hold a 3-1 lead Thursday, but it – meaning Fried in the eighth and Mark Melancon in the ninth – made this 3-0 margin stick. Melancon, who’d thrown 28 pitches in blowing Game 1, yielded one-out singles to Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna. Then he struck out Molina. Then he struck out Kolten Wong. Tied at 1, headed to St. Louis.
As rotten a loss as Game 1 was, Game 2 was that sweet a victory. Two guys who were in Triple-A not so long ago undid the pitcher who was supposed to dominate this NLDS. A managerial move that was first-guessed by the home crowd came up trumps. The Braves just might win this thing now.
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