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Unlikely heroes step up for Braves in extras

@mlbbowman
August 24, 2019

NEW YORK -- Even if you were committed to an optimistic outlook a few weeks ago, when the Braves’ new bullpen was struggling and Mike Foltynewicz was trying to prove he belonged back at the Major League level, it would have been impossible for you to predict what transpired in

NEW YORK -- Even if you were committed to an optimistic outlook a few weeks ago, when the Braves’ new bullpen was struggling and Mike Foltynewicz was trying to prove he belonged back at the Major League level, it would have been impossible for you to predict what transpired in Friday night’s 2-1, 14-inning win over the Mets at Citi Field.

Box score

OK; it might not have been out of the question to predict Foltynewicz and this suddenly-reliable relief corps would combine to allow one run over 14 innings. But you weren’t saying their efforts were going to be backed by Billy Hamilton and Adeiny Hechavarria, neither of whom was even a part of the Braves’ organization nine days earlier.

Even if you had been able to see into the future and anticipate their arrival, you likely wouldn’t have been crazy enough to predict they would combine to deliver the two key hits on a night when the Braves matched a dubious MLB record by striking out 26 times.

Mark Melancon’s perfect inning sealed the deal for the Braves, who became the fifth team to strike out 26 times. The only other team to win while doing so was the Brewers, who claimed a 1-0, 17-inning victory over the Angels on June 8, 2004.

“It’s baseball,” Hamilton said. “You’re going to strike out. If you strike out a hundred times and we win the game, that’s really all we’re worried about.”

As their bullpen continued to put up zeros, the Braves were given more opportunities to add to their strikeout total. But their offensive frustrations were finally put to rest in the 14th inning, when Hechavarria doubled off Jeurys Familia and Hamilton further damaged the former closer by slapping his game-winning single through the right side.

“That might have been one of the best feelings of my life, except for when I had my first stolen base in the Major Leagues,” Hamilton said.

Exactly one week after being designated for assignment by the Royals and three days after being signed by Atlanta, Hamilton is feeling quite fortunate to be part of a Braves team that sits six games in front of the Nationals in the National League East.

The same could be said of Hechavarria, who has gone 8-for-24 with four doubles and a homer since joining the Braves on Aug. 16. The veteran shortstop would not have had an opportunity in Atlanta had the Mets not released him on Aug. 14, a day before he would have been owed a $1 million bonus.

“It can’t be a coincidence that the day before I was due a bonus, it went down,” Hechavarria said. “That’s baseball and that’s the business of the game.”

As the injury-depleted Braves have persevered by adding Hechavarria and Hamilton to account for Dansby Swanson and Ender Inciarte being on the injured list, they have also regained late-inning stability. Their bullpen posted a 7.16 ERA over the first 15 games that were played after Melancon, Shane Greene and Chris Martin were acquired before the July 31 Trade Deadline.

This same relief corps has now allowed just one earned run over the 22 1/3 innings completed within the past six games. Six relievers combined to limit the Mets to four hits over seven scoreless innings in this latest victory.

“I’ve felt like we can play for a while and be alright,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “That game tonight was indication of that.”

Of course, it has often been proven a bullpen’s sustained success is heavily influenced by the rotation’s effectiveness. The Braves’ starting pitching will look much better over the next few weeks if Foltynewicz continues to pitch with the confidence and conviction he showed while limiting the Mets to two hits and one run over seven innings.

Foltynewicz’s damage was limited to a sixth-inning solo homer he allowed to Jacob deGrom, who became the first pitcher to ever homer and record 13 strikeouts in a game twice in one season.

Foltynewicz has created steady encouragement as he has leaned more heavily on his two-seamer while helping the Braves win each of the four starts he’s made since enduring a six-week demotion to Triple-A. But this latest effort against the reigning Cy Young Award winner was certainly the former All-Star’s most impressive start this year.

“This is where I should have been at the beginning of the year,” Foltynewicz said. “Just knowing I got back there with the confidence is pretty amazing.”

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.