ATLANTA -- Left for dead by some earlier this summer, Mike Foltynewicz provided the Braves renewed life and showed he is indeed capable of being a big-game pitcher.
Foltynewicz produced the best postseason start by an Atlanta pitcher in nearly two decades and Adam Duvall showed his own resilience by drilling a pinch-hit two-run home run that gave the Braves some comfort in a much-needed 3-0 win over Jack Flaherty and the Cardinals in Game 2 of the National League Division Series on Friday at SunTrust Park.
“It's pretty cool to see from a guy that went through what he went through this year and where he's come back from,” manager Brian Snitker said. “To see him step up like that is something really special.”
Though Snitker was speaking about Foltynewicz, he could have said the same about Duvall, as both former All-Stars were stuck together at Triple-A Gwinnett just a few months ago. But their willingness to persevere and get back to the Major League level allowed them to share the spotlight in the Braves’ biggest win to date.
“Games like today, that's what you play for,” Duvall said. “It was a big win for us, and this is what you work for. This is what you dream about.”
After blowing a two-run lead in Thursday’s Game 1 loss, the Braves faced the unenviable challenge of having to bounce back against Flaherty, who was the game’s most dominant pitcher over the final three months of the regular season. Their ability to do so evened this best-of-five series, which will resume when rookie Mike Soroka opposes Adam Wainwright in Game 3 on Sunday at Busch Stadium.
“Just resilient, that’s who we are,” shortstop Dansby Swanson said. “That’s kind of ingrained into us from the top down. We fight each inning. We fight each game. It doesn’t matter what happened yesterday. We’re focused on today. I think that was pretty prevalent today.”
Resilience was shown by closer Mark Melancon, who allowed four runs in Thursday’s heart-wrenching defeat and then delivered a scoreless ninth on Friday. It was also seen when Duvall heard boos when he came off the bench to bat for Foltynewicz in the seventh and then electrified the crowd with his two-run shot off Flaherty.
This was not a moment Duvall could have envisioned as he spent most of this season at Triple-A. The moment was made possible by Foltynewicz, who set the tone for the night by scattering three hits and recording seven strikeouts over seven innings.
Foltynewicz became the first Braves pitcher to throw seven or more scoreless innings in a postseason game since Tom Glavine blanked the Astros over eight innings in Game 2 of the 2001 NLDS.
“Pretty special,” Foltynewicz said. “[We] keep talking about it, the kind of year I had, just for the Braves to have trust in me. I kind of proved what I went down to work on, that I'm still the pitcher that I was last year.”
Foltynewicz is now better than the pitcher he was at this time last year, when after an impressive All-Star season, he was quickly humbled in two NLDS starts against the Dodgers. He had the tools to be an elite pitcher, but he lacked the experience needed to handle big situations.
Safe to say he is now capable of handling both big situations and his emotions, slowing down the game when necessary and maximizing his tremendous skills. He leaned heavily on his slider through the first few innings, showed the value of his two-seamer as the game progressed, and retired 15 of the final 17 batters faced.
“I give him so much credit,” catcher Brian McCann said. “To do what he did this year and go down and work on some things and come back, I mean, the resilience of that, it’s just incredible. The performance he put on today was unbelievable.”
Foltynewicz missed most of Spring Training because of a bone spur in his right elbow, then endured a couple of frustrating months before being demoted to Gwinnett on June 22 with a 6.37 ERA. He rejoined Atlanta’s rotation in early August and ended up producing a 1.73 ERA over his final seven starts, dating back to Aug. 23. Flaherty was the only other NL pitcher with a better ERA during this span.
“His mound presence has come a long way,” outfielder Nick Markakis said. “He’s not letting things get to him. He’s up there pounding the zone. He kept guys off balance all day. It was fun to watch. It was fun to play behind.”