Mike Foltynewicz admitted earlier this week that it would have been “a little far-fetched” to think in June, when he had a 6.37 ERA, that he would be starting Game 2 of a playoff series in October.
It would have been even more far-fetched back then to think Foltynewicz would pitch as dominantly as he did Friday against the St. Louis Cardinals in the high-stakes second game of a National League Division Series.
“Everything worked out beautifully today,” Foltynewicz said after the game.
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He pitched seven much-needed scoreless innings, allowing just three hits, striking out seven and walking none, as the Braves beat the Cardinals 3-0 to even the best-of-five series at a game apiece. He became the first Brave to pitch seven or more scoreless innings in a postseason game since Hall of Famer Tom Glavine went eight scoreless innings in Game 2 of the 2001 NLDS against Houston.
“It’s pretty cool to see for a guy who went through what he went through this season and where he’s come back from,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said of Foltynewicz. “To see him step up like that is something really special.”
Foltynewicz’s performance was so electric that when he was lifted for a pinch-hitter with two out in the bottom of the seventh, the Braves leading 1-0 and a runner on first base, boos rang out from the SunTrust Park crowd. They turned to rousing cheers when the pinch-hitter, Adam Duvall, belted a two-run homer.
It was hard to believe, watching Foltynewicz work, that this is the same pitcher who struggled so much in the season’s early going that the Braves optioned him to Triple-A Gwinnett in late June.
“Pretty special (with) the kind of year I had for the Braves to have trust in me,” he said.
The difference in early-season Foltynewicz and Friday’s Foltynewicz is “command of the baseball,” said Cardinals manager Mike Shildt, who saw Foltynewicz pitch twice in May, once horribly and once well. “He had multiple pitches working (Friday) and was throwing them where he wanted to. He kept it out of the big part of the plate.”
Foltynewicz made six starts for Gwinnett before rejoining the big-league team Aug. 5. He went 6-1 with a 2.65 ERA over his final 11 starts of the regular season, including eight shutout innings against the San Francisco Giants in the NL East-clinching win Sept. 20. But Friday’s performance topped all of that, and his seven-inning stint was all the more important because the Braves used seven relievers the day before (and lost one of them to injury).
“The biggest thing we needed -- and I said this earlier in the day -- was a really strong start out of Folty,” Snitker said. “And we got it.”
Foltynewicz, who grew up as a Cardinals fan, was dominant from the start of the game. His slider, which had been a problematic pitch for him early in the season, was a weapon. He effectively mixed his other pitches – fastball, curve, change-up – as well.
“It was a great mix today,” Foltynewicz said. “But my slider was on point. I was just going to be aggressive and make them put it in play instead of giving people free bases.”
He struck out five of the first nine batters he faced. He allowed just four baserunners in seven innings, one of those reaching on an error. When a single and the error put two runners on base with two outs in the second, Foltynewicz ended the inning with a strikeout. When he allowed a one-out single in the seventh, he induced a double-play ground ball from the next batter.
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Foltynewicz said last year’s NLDS starts against the Dodgers helped him this time.
“I kind of knew what to expect if things got a little crazy,” he said. “I slowed the game down pretty good tonight.”
He threw 81 pitches and would have been back on the mound for the eighth inning if his turn at-bat hadn’t come up in the seventh, resulting in Duvall’s heroics.
“We wanted to get a real at-bat up there instead of my poor stuff,” Foltynewicz said.
Going in, the game had appeared an ominous one for the Braves because Cardinals starter Jack Flaherty had the best ERA in the big leagues in the second half of the regular season (0.91) and won the National League pitcher-of-the-month awards in both August and September. Flaherty pitched well Friday, too, surrendering three runs on eight hits, including Duvall’s homer, in seven innings of work. But he did not pitch as well as Foltynewicz.
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