NEW YORK -- For all the paper additions that had come to life Thursday night at Citi Field -- there was Adam Duvall, starting in left; there was Kevin Gausman, suited up and shaking hands -- the most welcome sight for the Braves came from a piece already in place. Few spearheaded the Braves' surprising first half more than All-Star right-hander Mike Foltynewicz, and few will be more important down the stretch if Atlanta is to continue to compete for the National League East crown.
All of which made Foltynewicz's return to form the highlight of a clinical 4-2 win over the Mets, which helped the Braves hop momentarily into a first-place tie. The clubhouse then watched as the Phillies used a wild ninth-inning rally to steal a game from the Marlins and keep pace, pushing the Braves back to a half-game back in the division standings. But the late-night drama did little to spoil the performance of Foltynewicz, who notched his first quality start in two months. The victory extended the Braves' win streak to four games and snapped a five-start stretch during which Foltynewicz pitched to a 5.72 ERA. He'd gone 5-4 with a 2.14 ERA over the 15 starts prior.
"I've been battling. This last month, it seems like one or two pitches at the end of my outings [changes things]," Foltynewicz said. "You have to keep your confidence up. You can't let it get you down."
Provided four early runs of support, Foltynewicz cruised for the better part of six innings of two-run ball, striking out five and walking one. The heart of the Braves' order supplied the rest -- run-scoring hits by Ozzie Albies, Freddie Freeman and Johan Camargo off losing pitcher Jason Vargas provided Foltynewicz with his first victory since the All-Star break, then a trio of Atlanta relievers sealed it.
Starting in center field for just the second time in his career, Acuna led off the game with his first career triple -- a booming drive down the left-field line. He played a role in many of the pivotal plays on a sticky, humid night, scoring on Albies' single a batter later, then again on Freeman's RBI hit in the third. Bringing the merits of Atlanta's new outfield strategy into focus, Acuna played center in place of Ender Inciarte, the two-time Gold Glove winner pushed into a platoon role with Duvall -- who walked and scored in three plate appearances in his Braves debut. Acuna then shifted back to left in the eighth, when Inciarte entered as a defensive replacement for Duvall.
"I told Adam, 'This isn't a reflection on you,'" manager Brian Snitker said of the double-switch. "We have a guy with a lot of gold sitting in there. Adam is a guy who is in the final voting for Gold Glove every year too, so he gets it."
Though he nearly misplayed a routine fly ball early and another ball to his left late, Acuna said he feels "100 percent confident" in center field, which he considers his natural position. The rookie is likely to be back in left, with Inciarte in center, when the Braves face a right-handed starter Friday night. But Thursday's alignment figures to be the norm against southpaws going forward.
"One ball was a little shaky," Snitker said. "He's an aggressive kid."
In addition to being the first triple of his career, Acuna's trip to third base in the first inning was notable in another context. It took 11.15 seconds for Acuna to run from home to third, the fastest time for a Braves player this season, per Statcast™. That also ranks fourth by a Brave since Statcast™ began tracking in 2015. Acuna reached a top speed of 29.3 feet per second during his dash.
"And I slowed down at first," Acuna said, through team interpreter Franco Garcia. "We were all thinking double, double, off the bat. We weren't expecting it taking the hop that it did. So I slowed up at first then turned it up a little bit."
FREDDIE IN MVP FORM
Rightfully known more for his bat, Freeman has also been one of baseball's most valuable defensive first basemen this season. Thursday served as a microcosm of his excellent all-around year.
Freeman drove in and scored a run during the Braves' three-run third, shortly after taking an extra-base hit away with his glove. He left his feet to intercept a sharp Jose Reyes grounder in the second, then raced to the bag to complete the putout unassisted and end the frame.
HE SAID IT
"Just how hard he swings at the ball kind of reminds me of Bryce Harper a little bit, just very intimidating at the plate. When he puts the ball in play, it's awesome to watch him run." -- Foltynewicz, on Acuna
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
The Braves were able to survive Acuna's adventurous start in center field in large part to a successful challenge in the sixth, which negated a defensive blunder by the rookie. Up two runs with one out and a runner on, an Acuna bobble momentarily turned Wilmer Flores' single into a double, putting the potential tying run in scoring position. But the call determining that Flores slid in ahead of Acuna's throw to second was overturned after a 1-minute, 40-second review. Foltynewicz then needed just one pitch to retire Todd Frazier and escape unscathed.
"That's a huge play in that game. That's the baserunning play you have to make also. You have to push the envelope, it takes a perfect throw and we got it," Snitker said. "[Acuna] is an aggressive kid. He overran [it] but had the wherewithal to get the ball and make a strong throw. That was really good, how he recovered."
The Braves will look to extend their win streak to a season-best five games Friday, when this series continues at Citi Field. They'll have to defeat Jacob deGrom to do so. The Braves have topped deGrom (5-6, 1.82 ERA) before -- they've won all four games he's started against them this year. The Braves counter with Anibal Sanchez (5-3, 3.00), who is riding a streak of five straight starts in which he's completed at least six innings. First pitch is set for 7:10 pm ET.