Braves left fielder Adam Duvall swings for the fence in the seventh-inning, his two-run home run breaking open Game Two of the National League Division Series against St. Louis. (JASON GETZ/SPECIAL TO THE AJC)
Photo: Jason Getz
Photo: Jason Getz

A Gwinnett Striper in June, Duvall a Braves star in October

Adam Duvall just did more to improve Brian Snitker’s IQ than a lifetime supply of B vitamins. At least in the eyes of the Braves following.

One moment in the fading light of Friday, there were more than 40,000 Braves fans booing their manager’s decision to lift starting pitcher Mike Foltynewicz in the seventh inning of a taut Game 2 of the National League Division Series with St. Louis. Duvall was the pinch hitter striding to the plate amid the uproar.

“The fans let me know they wanted him to stay in, which we all did,” Duvall said. “I just wanted to have a good at-bat and go up there and try to make it worth it because (Cards starter Jack Flaherty) was grooving out there.”
Foltynewicz had been grooving, too, shutting out the Cards on just three hits as the Braves clung to a 1-0 lead. And there was great unrest among the populous concerning the team’s bullpen. 

 

The next moment, SunTrust Park was enveloped in explosive cheering, as Duvall’s two-out, two-run home run soared toward center. The grip of a tight pitchers’ duel was broken, Duvall being the first Brave capable of an extra-base hit off the ace, Flaherty. From there, the Braves held on to win 3-0 and tie the best-of-5 series at one apiece.

Just like that, the manager went from Homer Simpson to Einstein. And a story of baseball reclamation was complete, as two players who had been shunted off to Triple-A Gwinnett this season – Foltynewicz and Duvall – momentarily saved the postseason for the Braves.

“Yeah, it was a boo/yay moment,” Snitker said, smiling.

» RELATED: Braves-Cardinals results, remaining schedule

Duvall’s case was a particularly powerful story of perseverance.

An All-Star in 2016, a prodigious fellow with the bat who had 64 home runs in ’16 and ’17, Duvall seemingly forgot how to hit when the Braves acquired him in a trade with Cincinnati in July 2018.

In 33 games with the Braves that season in the unfamiliar role of spot player, he hit .132 with a grand total of one extra-base hit, a double. He became an uncomfortable non-factor on a team that had looked to him for a power surge.

To the surprise of some, the Braves offered him a contract for this season, but knowing nothing else to do with him at the end of spring, they shipped him to Gwinnett.

Rather than bemoan his fate, Duvall made the most of the exile, setting a Stripers record with 32 home runs. Nobody with his major league resume particularly covets such a mark, but it beat anonymity. if just barely.    

And then, in late July, when Nick Markakis broke his wrist, the door opened for Duvall to rejoin the Braves. Up and down three times, he managed to hit double-digit home runs (10) and for enough average (.267) with the Braves to earn a place on the postseason roster.

“I couldn’t be happier for any one individual,” Snitker said. “He’s right in that same line with Folty.”

“He stayed the course and worked,” Snitker continued. “I have so much respect for a guy like that. That’s hard when you’ve been up here and you’ve been an established major leaguer to go back to Triple-A and put the dedication and devotion and everything he did. That says a lot about the character of that man.”

“Games like today, that’s what you play for,” Duvall said afterward. “It was a big win for us and, you know, this is what you work for, this is what you dream about.

“It was a good result. It was a good game. We are all just happy going to St. Louis to try to get two more wins.”

It was kind of a Hail Mary going for the home run in that situation when Snitker turned to Duvall – two out, one on. Sending the right-hander out to face dominant right-handed pitching seemed another reach.

Braves left fielder Adam Duvall (23) reacts after hitting a two-run home run in the seventh inning. (JASON GETZ/SPECIAL TO THE AJC)
Photo: Jason Getz

For added drama, Flaherty ran the count full on Duvall before he sent the next fastball he saw into the seats. The feverish spell that Flaherty held on the Braves had broken.

“I got to see a couple of his pitches early - fastball and slider early. And then I was able to get something up in the zone.
“I knew (Ronald) Acuna was behind me, so I knew they didn't necessarily want to give me a free pass. So, they were aggressive. And I was looking for something up in the zone, something I could get the barrel to, and I was able to do that.
“It wasn't a hundred percent going to be a fastball in my mind. But I was ready for the heater.  I wanted to be on time with the heater and then adjust to off-speed. I was able to get the barrel to it.”
“He had had minimal success off Flaherty,” Snitker said. “He had a home run (1-for-4 career off Flaherty, the homer coming just before the trade to the Braves, the last one he would hit in 2018). You look at the match-ups. He had hit a homer off him and you bank on that. I knew he was staying in the game anyway (for defense). It worked out for us.”

» PHOTOS: Braves shut out the Cardinals

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