Braves season rests on arm of Foltynewicz in NLDS Game 5

Joe Patrick
October 08, 2019 - 11:07 pm
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Just 108 days ago on June 22, Mike Foltynewicz stood in front of his locker with a face smothered in frustration after another terrible start: eight earned runs over four innings, bumping his ERA to 6.37.

“I've got a 7 ERA on a first-place team," Foltynewicz said through watery eyes. "It's just tough. I'm battling every night. It's just tough. It's just the person I am. I'm going to wear that stuff on my sleeve, especially when things aren't going my way. It's just tough. It's all my fault, too."

Woof.

The saddest part is that he wasn’t wrong. The guy who was supposed to be the ace of the staff and Opening Day starter looked a shell of his former self after missing almost all of spring training with an elbow injury that sidelined him in February

And Brian Snitker knew it too. The Braves manager informed him shortly after the dreadful start that he’d been demoted. He was going to Gwinnett.

“We had a conversation when he went down just about where he was at then and then performance, and where we knew he could be,” Snitker told media Tuesday ahead of the 28-year-old’s start in Game 5 of the NLDS with the season on the line. “And it's the old [saying> — the sad thing is taking a step back to take two forward.

“He was very receptive. I admire how he went down there and got himself going and put himself in this position that he's in [Wednesday>.”

Foltynewicz never lost sight of his vision on the Braves playoff roster, but he admits he needed to work on his mechanics. Most of all, he had to figure out his slider — a pitch that had gone missing since becoming dominant in last year’s all-star season. He went to work alongside future playoff teammates like Rafael Ortega and Adam Duvall, the latter of which has staked his own claim to series MVP honors.

“We all had one goal in mind still, and we wanted to get back up here and help these boys get to where they needed to be,” said Foltynewicz Tuesday, 26 hours before his Game 5 start. “Just had to do a lot of growing up again. And just kept my head down kept working and pounding to get to this, to where we are today.”

Six weeks after his demotion, Alex Anthopoulos saw enough to convince him that Folty had figured out his slider, and he was ready for another shot. The team placed Kevin Gausman on waivers and called him up for a chance at redemption.

Upon his first appearance, Foltynewicz went from strength-to-strength. He went 6-0 with a 2.35 ERA in nine starts following his recall. During that stretch, he out-dueled Cy Young candidates Jacob de Grom and Hyun-Jin Ryu in Braves wins and pitched a near-flawless eight innings to help the Braves clinch the NL East title.

Then, with the Braves’ backs against the wall following a crushing and controversial Game 1 loss at home, Folty one-upped himself with yet another masterpiece against Cardinals Cy Young candidate Jack Flaherty: seven scoreless innings allowing only two baserunners.

“We keep talking about it, the kind of year I had, just for the Braves to have trust in me,” Folty told reporters after the game. “And I kind of proved what I went down to work on that I'm still the pitcher that I was last year.”

Folty found his slider, and with it he found confidence and reassurance that he can pitch at an elite level. Tuesday night, after he gets some work in at the office at SunTrust Park, he’s going to go home and be with his wife, kids and dogs. He’s going to watch Toy Story 4. He’s going to relax. Finally.

Folynewicz addressed media who on Tuesday asked about the Braves history of playoff misfortunes. Maybe there’s nobody more qualified to speak on such a subject as the man who’ll try to keep the Braves season alive Wednesday.

“What happens in the past,” he said. “You've literally got to forget what happened yesterday.”