• Exclusives

    Braves Fight Back with Redeeming Game 2 Victory, Evens NLDS

    By Bud L. Ellis

    BravesWire.com

    ATLANTA – At some point during a summer spent trying to find his mechanics and find himself, Mike Foltynewicz had to wonder if this opportunity would ever return. At some point during a summer spent smashing baseballs all over the International League, Adam Duvall had to wonder if this opportunity would ever come.

    Their moments arrived simultaneously Friday afternoon when the Atlanta Braves needed them most, and both delivered under baseball’s brightest lights.

    Foltynewicz fired seven shutout innings and Duvall smashed a two-run pinch-hit homer in Game 2 of the National League Division Series, lifting the Braves to a 3-0 victory over St. Louis to square the best-of-five series at one game apiece. Not even 24 hours after Atlanta’s special season seemed spiraling toward the abyss after a disheartening 7-6 loss in the series opener, the Braves now sit just two victories shy of their first playoff series triumph in 18 years.

    The journeys both Foltynewicz and Duvall took to reach Friday had to felt longer than that.

    Pegged as the Braves ace when spring training started, Foltynewicz experienced elbow issues and didn’t pitch in the majors until late April. It went south quickly, leading to Atlanta’s Game 1 starter in last year’s NLDS being banished to the minors for six weeks.

    Duvall struggled miserably after being acquired at last year’s trade deadline from Cincinnati, so much so he was left off the playoff roster. With no room for him in Atlanta at the end of spring training, Duvall was sent to Triple-A and stayed there until being recalled in late July.

    Foltynewicz earned the nod in Game 2 based on the work he did since rejoining the big-league rotation Aug. 6, posting a 2.65 ERA and .211 opponents batting average in 10 starts. He struck out two hitters in the first, second and fifth innings, finishing with seven punchouts. He did not walk a batter. Only one St. Louis hitter reached second base against him. Poised and calm throughout, Foltynewicz spun a gem in perhaps the biggest game of his young career.

    The 42,911 inside SunTrust Park did not want to see his day end, and they let Atlanta skipper Brian Snitker know it when Duvall strolled to the plate to pinch-hit for Foltynewicz with two outs in the seventh and Brian McCann on first. Duvall turned those boos to cheers by hammering a 96-mph fastball over the fence in center to push the lead to three.

    One night after a muddled mess of an opener for both teams, Atlanta and St. Louis played a much cleaner, crisper affair, completed in 2 hours, 46 minutes (81 minutes quicker than Thursday’s slog). The Braves awoke Friday needing a spark to avoid falling into an 0-2 hole that likely would have ended their season, and the task at hand upon arriving at the ballpark was daunting.

    Cardinals starter Jack Flaherty posted a 0.91 ERA and 0.71 WHIP in 15 starts since the All-Star break with 124 strikeouts and five homers allowed in 99 1/3 innings. But the right-hander gave up an opening-inning single to Ozzie Albies, who advanced on Flaherty’s wild pitch to second, moved to third on a Freddie Freeman groundout and scored on Josh Donaldson’s single to left to provide Atlanta a 1-0 lead after one inning for the second consecutive game.

    Foltynewicz made it stick from there, firing 58 of his 81 pitches for strikes by inducing swings and misses on his slider and freezing St. Louis hitters with his fastball. The growth in Foltynewicz was on full display for all the nation to see on this night, one year to the day he gave up four runs in two innings of a Game 1 loss at Log Angeles.

    Duval hit just .171 in spring training and was sent to Gwinnett at the end of camp. To his credit – much as Foltynewicz would do with the Triple-A affiliate three months later – Duvall went to work. He hit 32 homers with 90 RBIs in 101 games with the Stripers and gave the Braves a big boost after Nick Markakis broke his wrist on a hit-by-pitch in late July, homering in his major-league season debut and slugging four homers in his first five games.

    While rookie Austin Riley scuffled badly down the stretch, Duvall took advantage of the Braves early clinch of the NL East and the extra playing time that came with it, ending the regular season on a seven-game hitting streak to earn a roster spot. A 30-homer hitter in back-to-back seasons with the Reds in 2016-17, his final homer in a Cincinnati uniform came on July 25, 2018.

    It came off Flaherty.

    Suffice to say, both Duvall and Foltynewicz never will forget Friday. And their team, all but buried just one evening earlier, now flies to St. Louis needing just two more victories to earn a shot at the pennant.

    —30—

    Bud L. Ellis is a lifelong Braves fan who worked as a sports writer for daily newspapers throughout Georgia earlier in his writing career, with duties including covering the Atlanta Braves, the World Series and MLB’s All-Star Game. Ellis currently lives in the Atlanta suburbs and contributes his thoughts on Braves baseball and MLB for a variety of outlets. Reach him on Twitter at @bud006.