Last night Braves manager Brian Snitker was second guessed for some of his choices. Tonight he looks like a genius, with a decision to pinch hit for his dominating starting pitcher in the bottom of the seventh turning out perfectly and helping the Braves beat the Cardinals 3-0 to even up their National League Division Series at one game a piece.
It all started with Braves starter Mike Foltynewicz, who was as sharp as could be this evening. He tossed seven shutout innings, allowing only three hits, not walking a batter and striking out seven, all while clinging to a 1-0 lead. He looked like he could go all night if he wanted to, and having thrown only 81 pitches, you figure he could’ve gone more.
Snitker had other ideas, though. Cardinals starter Jack Flaherty gave up a first inning run on a Josh Donaldson RBI single but since then he had matched Foltynewicz with zeroes in innings two through six. The Braves needed something to get some offense going and to score an insurance run, so with two outs, a runner on first in the bottom of the seventh and the pitcher’s spot coming to bat, Snitker pinch-hit Adam Duvall for Foltynewicz.
That decision elicited some boos from the crowd in SunTrust Park — they were really into Foltynewicz’s game — but those boos were soon turned to cheers as Duvall worked the count full against Flaherty and then launched a 95 m.p.h. fastball 423 feet to dead center to give the Braves a 3-0 lead:
Flaherty’s night ended with 117 pitches. It’s hard to deny that it was a dozen or two too many.
Snitker called on Max Fried in the eighth. Fried, a starter in 30 of his 33 games in 2019 and, putatively, available to start in this series, has now pitched two straight games out of the pen and he’s been damn good at it. He struck out the first two batters he faced in the eighth, allowed a single, and then got a line drive to center for out number three. Both last night and tonight Fried seemed locked in. If the Braves go deep in the postseason you have to wonder if he won’t be their version of Andrew Miller. Or what Miller used to be.
You also wonder if Brian Snitker should’ve stuck with Fried in the bottom of the ninth. Instead he called on closer Mark Melancon. The same Melancon who gave up four runs on five hits, blew the save and lost Game 1. Here he was shaky again, throwing three straight balls to start the ninth, getting an out and then allowing two singles. Melancon geared up and struck out Yadier Molina to get the second out and then struck out Kolten Wong. Whew.
That minor heart attack aside, the Braves had as good a day as they could’ve asked for. And the best one on this day was Mike Foltynewicz.