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Melancon fired up after bounce-back save

Braves closer rebounds from rough G1, escapes trouble to seal shutout
@adamdberry
October 6, 2019

ATLANTA -- After giving up four runs and losing Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Thursday night, Mark Melancon knew what he needed to do to get right. The veteran closer wanted the ball again, and he wanted it as soon as possible. Melancon reported to SunTrust

ATLANTA -- After giving up four runs and losing Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Thursday night, Mark Melancon knew what he needed to do to get right. The veteran closer wanted the ball again, and he wanted it as soon as possible.

Melancon reported to SunTrust Park on Friday ready to pitch, even after throwing 28 pitches during Thursday’s ugly outing. The opportunity presented itself in the ninth inning, with the Braves leading by three runs. Braves manager Brian Snitker called upon Melancon, who got the bad taste out of his mouth by locking down the save in Atlanta’s 3-0 win over the Cardinals.

“It was putting yesterday behind me, just being able to get back out there and get those juices going again was great,” Melancon said. “That’s the most needed thing after a rough day.”

Game Date Result Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 3 STL 7, ATL 6 Watch
Gm 2 Oct. 4 ATL 3, STL 0 Watch
Gm 3 Oct. 6 ATL 3, STL 1 Watch
Gm 4 Oct. 7 STL 5, ATL 4 (10) Watch
Gm 5 Oct. 9 STL 13, ATL 1 Watch

The Braves will need more days like this from Melancon, who joined their retooled bullpen before the Trade Deadline as a setup man, then claimed the closer’s role in August. Atlanta is without setup man Chris Martin, leaving Shane Greene and starter Max Fried as Snitker’s primary late-inning options in front of Melancon.

Snitker and his coaching staff checked in with Melancon hours before the game, making sure the 34-year-old right-hander felt good enough to pitch after his outing in Game 1. Only once this season had Melancon entered a game the day after throwing 25 or more pitches, and that was July 5-6 -- back when he was pitching for the Giants.

But Snitker said the Braves quickly came to trust Melancon, knowing he has a good feel for what he’s capable of and an open line of communication with the coaching staff.

“I know it's a lot of pitches. This guy has closed for a long time. It's not a lot of pitches for him,” Snitker said. “If he said, ‘I'm sore, I can't go,’ then we'll honor that and use somebody else. But we trust him. He's been around.”

Melancon’s first postseason save since the 2016 NLDS wasn’t entirely without drama. With one out, he gave up back-to-back singles to Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna to bring the tying run to the plate in the form of Yadier Molina. Melancon got ahead of the veteran catcher, firing a sequence of cutters and curveballs. Finally, Melancon retired Molina with a cutter above the strike zone.

Up came Kolten Wong, the left-handed hitter who poked a two-run double to right field against Melancon that proved to be the difference in Game 1.

“Those nights aren’t easy to sleep,” Melancon said. “When you can get back out there the next day, it’s always nice.”

This time, Melancon offered Wong nothing but low curveballs, even after falling behind in the count, and Wong went down swinging at two in a row to end the game. Melancon pumped his fist and shouted, a big gesture for the mild-mannered closer, then high-fived and hugged catcher Brian McCann in front of the mound.

After Game 1, Melancon said he felt like he “gave that game away.” Less than 24 hours later, he put Game 2 away and sent the Braves to St. Louis with a chance to take the series lead.

“This guy’s a proven veteran guy who’s done this many times,” McCann said. “It shows a lot about him, too, bouncing back and executing and shutting the door.”

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.