ATLANTA — It is not exactly reassuring to come to the plate late in a crucial postseason contest and be met only with boos from the home crowd. But Adam Duvall didn’t take it personally. He understood.
When the Braves outfielder was called off the bench in the bottom of the seventh of Atlanta’s 3-0 win over the Cardinals in Game 2 of the NLDS on Friday, the fans were maddened not by his presence, but by the absence it dictated. Duvall was pinch-hitting for starter Mike Foltynewicz—the end of the line for the pitcher after his best performance of the year: seven scoreless frames, seven strikeouts, three hits, no walks. He’d faced off against St. Louis’ Jack Flaherty, the hottest pitcher in baseball after a historic second half, and Foltynewicz had come out on top. His slider was impossible to touch. His control was flawless. (He’d seen only one three-ball count.) The Braves were up 1-0, and Foltynewicz had thrown just 81 pitches—but, with his spot in the order due up with a runner on first and two outs, he was yanked. Duvall came off the bench to pinch-hit against Flaherty, and the crowd made their frustration known as they realized that the starter’s day was over.
“The fans let me know that they wanted him to stay in,” Duvall said. “We all did. I just wanted to have a good at-bat and try to make it work.”
But, of course, there are precious few hitters who have had a good at-bat against Flaherty since July. The numbers from his second half are dizzying: 0.91 ERA, 11.2 K/9, .142 BA—not unhittable so much as just untouchable. The Braves’ one run had come from an uncharacteristically unsettled first frame for Flaherty, but he’d since locked in, with flashes of the terror that he’d shown hitters all summer.
On a full count, Duvall sent a fastball over the heart of the plate all the way into the centerfield seats.
Naturally, the boos made the hasty transformation into cheers that comes with an outcome unforeseen from its process. And the score held—evening the series at one game apiece before it heads to St. Louis for Sunday’s Game 3—which meant that one of the game’s chief driving forces had been lifted for the other.
Both Foltynewicz and Duvall were beset with praise after the game. But the narratives of their respective seasons meant that it was almost hard at times to tell which congratulatory line was meant for whom. To wit:
“What he’s gone through this year, I’ve got much respect for the man. He didn’t start the season where he wanted to, but he went down there and battled.”
“I give him so much credit to do what he did this year—to go down and work on some things… The resilience is just incredible.”
“I have so much respect for a guy like that. That’s hard. You’ve been up here, you’ve been an established major-leaguer, you go down to Triple-A and put the dedication and devotion in—that says a lot about the man and the character.”
Both had been sent down to spend time in Triple-A—Foltynewicz for the month of July after a dismal start to the season; Duvall for the bulk of the year as he initially failed to make the outfield on a deep roster—and both had created the success necessary to make their way back. For both, it had been a long season, tasked with either reinventing or relocating themselves to prove they could perform like they once had. And, finally, both had ended up here, intersecting as key forces in the postseason. (For what it’s worth, the above praise was, in order: outfielder Nick Markakis on Duvall, catcher Brian McCann on Foltynewicz, and skipper Brian Snitker on Duvall.)
This was not necessarily redemption, as each had already achieved that, inasmuch as it was even on the table: Foltynewicz was as sharp as he’d ever been after returning in August (thanks in large part to the remastered slider that worked so well for him in Game 2), and Duvall had already been slugging in Triple-A before he got the chance to post a personal-best offensive numbers in the show in September. But their intersection here was a reminder of just how much the season holds, and now, thanks to the two of them, Atlanta’s can have a chance to hold even more.
“I just feel like he did exactly what we needed him to do,” Snitker said. This one was about Foltynewicz—but it, too, could have been about Duvall.