MIAMI -- Perhaps Saturday’s postgame incident, which involved a chaotic scene of evacuating the visiting clubhouse because of chemical dust from a fire extinguisher, lit a fire until the National League East-leading Braves.
Atlanta wrapped a stretch of 17 games in 17 days by going 10-7, including 4-3 on the road trip that just ended. The Braves, 6-5 in August and 16-13 following the All-Star break, will play host to the red-hot Mets and NL West-leading Dodgers on the upcoming homestand following an off-day.
“Honestly, we were sitting down kind of laughing and giggling in the lunchroom after. ... We'll remember this,” said Luke Jackson, who notched his 18th save. “These are the teams that win championships. Crazy things happen. Clubhouse catches on fire, fire extinguisher goes off, you lose a game, but guess what? Build camaraderie, and I think it's a win out of that.”
Over the course of Sunday’s game, several key decisions and plays highlighted trends that may affect Atlanta the remainder of the season.
Snitker sticks with his starter
Prior to Thursday’s series opener, Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos said he looked forward to 2018 All-Star Mike Foltynewicz’s start on Sunday after his first showing following a six-week demotion showed “the frontline starter we saw last year.”
Needless to say, Foltynewicz’s recent track record didn’t lend itself to the benefit of the doubt.
But after the Marlins trimmed the Braves' lead to 1 and put a pair of runners on base in the sixth inning, Braves manager Brian Snitker came out to talk to Foltynewicz -- and let the right-hander pitch his way out of the jam. Pinch-hitter Martín Prado flied out to right and Jon Berti grounded out to end the threat.
“Sometimes we don't have confidence in ourselves at that point in the game,” said Foltynewicz, who allowed four runs over six innings with seven strikeouts. “When a manager comes out and says, ‘How you’re feeling, I trust in you and you got a good matchup right here,’ it just picked me up instantly. I don’t know what came over me then, but when Snit said he was going to stick with me, [saying] ‘Get these guys out, I like the matchup,’ I knew I was going to get the outs no matter what. That’s what he brings out knowing he wants to stick me out there. It means the world.”
The kid can do it all
Acuna’s prowess at the plate steals most of the headlines, as his solo homer in the fifth was his 33rd of the season, fourth of the series and eighth in August. He has a shot at the first 40-40 season since Alfonso Soriano accomplished the feat in 2006.
The 21-year-old All-Star’s cannon of an arm, however, possibly saved the victory more so than Jackson’s on the mound.
When leadoff batter Isan Diaz blooped a pitch with the Braves playing no-doubles defense, Acuna caught the rookie straying too far off of first base and threw him out in the ninth.
“‘Please throw it, throw it, throw it,’” Jackson recalled thinking. “On the money, like he's been since he's locked down the right-field position. I'd Statcast every one of [his throws].”
Acuna took over right-field duties when veteran Nick Markakis landed on the injured list with a fractured left wrist on July 27. He had appeared in just three games at the position -- all last season.
“The kid is a weapon in right field,” Snitker said. “That arm plays, and he's confident in it. That was a heck of a play.”
Wading through the late innings
Entering Sunday, Atlanta’s bullpen had compiled a 7.44 ERA with one save and four blown saves since July 16. Sunday’s series finale marked just the fifth time the relief corps has been unscored upon during this stretch.
With the Braves staying away from newcomers Shane Greene and Mark Melancon -- both of whom pitched the previous two nights -- Chris Martin worked a scoreless seventh and Anthony Swarzak got the final out of the eighth after Sean Newcomb walked two batters. Jackson, who recorded 17 saves before the trio of Trade Deadline acquisitions, locked down the ninth.
As Jackson put it: “We've got eight back-end arms in the bullpen right now.” The quartet of Melancon, Greene, Martin and Jackson has combined for 272 career saves.
“That was great,” Snitker said. “It’s tough. These guys have been under a little scrutiny or whatever, but that’s what they’re capable of. It’s great how they picked each other up today. We’re going to need them. It’s a good bullpen. Every facet in your game at some point, whether it’s hitting, all that kind of stuff, it’s not perfect all the time. These guys will keep fighting. It’s a great group of guys. They pick each other up, and it’s got a chance of being really good.”