Mike Foltynewicz Takes No Prisoners in Seven Innings of Glavine-esque Pitching

Nothing feels great with a 1-0 lead. Every hard hit pitch is a reminder that victory is fleeting. Nothing ever lasts. And everybody’s just waiting for you fail–including you.

Braves pitchers don’t have a long and storied history of 1-0 leads in the playoffs, but Mike Foltynewicz added to what legacy there is on Friday night with a performance that requires us to travel 18 years back in time to find a proper comparison, when the Braves went west to Houston for the 2001 NLDS.

After going up 1-0 in the series with a win in Game 1, Tom Glavine got the ball the next night. The Braves scored him a run on a double play in the third. That was it. Glavine wouldn’t sit on the bench as much as he’d bounce off it, having to so quickly return to the mound following another 1-2-3 frame from his offense. It was clear very quickly that he’d have to take care of the rest himself.

He pushed through eight innings; just him and his 1-0 lead. By the time he left the game, handing the ball to John Smoltz to get the save, they were both still intact.

“Nobody expects to win 1-0,” Glavine told reporters back then. “This is big. There’s no understanding it.”

That’s the last kind of pitching performance you want to be up against when you’re trying to win Game 2 of the NLDS, regardless of whether you’re the Astros in 2001 or the Cardinals this afternoon.

The Braves learned on Thursday that when Cardinals Devil Magic starts stirring, there’s not a whole lot more you can do but hope it at least leaves you your dignity. Their 7-6 loss at home in Game 1 put them in a hole. Fortunately for them, they had Mike Foltynewicz to pull them out of it.

Nobody wants to be down 0-2 and on the way to St. Louis, so the Braves had some work to do. They needed their offense to find a way through Jack Flaherty, and more importantly, they needed Foltynewicz to protect what was likely to be a slim lead. Word of Flaherty’s second half numbers had spread through the stadium and the broadcast booth with gusto: a 33% strikeout rate. A 6.3% walk rate. A 2.22 FIP to go along with a minuscule 0.91 ERA. When the smoke cleared after six, the Braves’ vaunted offense had found Foltynewicz his lead, and it was just as slim as anyone could have guessed: 1-0.

Flaherty didn’t find much trouble beyond the first-inning run the Braves pushed across, started by an Ozzie Albies single. The wild pitch he threw that moved Albies to second was a reminder of the six he’d tossed during the regular season, and it wound up costing him and the Cardinals the lead when Josh Donaldson singled Albies in. But after that, he was able to cruise through much of his performance until near the end of his 117-pitch afternoon.

In contrast, Foltynewicz stayed almost entirely out of real danger, menacing the Cardinals with exactly the sort of off-speed pitches they don’t like to hit. No one wanted to see him taken out, but this year, on Foltynewicz’s third time through the order, he had an 8.25 ERA, his K/BB rate dropped from 3.07 to 2.33, and his BB/9 crept up to 3.38. Still–you can go ahead and throw those numbers in the trash: Those are from the before time, back when Foltynewicz’s razor blade slider had turned into more of a gourd that he just tossed up there, high in the zone.

Hittable? You bet. During spring training, Foltynewicz had something of an “elbow scare.” The bone spurs he’d pitched with forever had flared up due to an injury, after he had decided not to have them operated on over the winter. Now, they were taking the edge off his slider.

Bone spurs will pop out of your shoulder bones, your spine bones, hand bones, hip bones, and feet bones, but mostly in your joints like your elbow (bones). With all the swinging and throwing and fielding and, if you’re a member of the Braves, funnin’ around you may be doing as a ball player, you’re at a much higher risk to sprout a couple of them.

Sometimes, a bone spur will form and just sit there, not causing any trouble. Sometimes you can live with one for years and never know it’s there. Those are the good ones. But the bad ones… oh, the bad ones. Phillies pitcher Jake Arrieta announced he had bone spurs in his throwing arm this year, presumably just to brag, because then he tried to pitch through them. But even he had to bow out of the regular season after a few absolutely not good starts that you could probably credit to, again, the bone spurs in his arm.

Seemingly everyone’s got them: Freddie Freeman has them. Your favorite player probably has them. Even your grandma’s favorite player. That’s right, Joe DiMaggio had bone spurs, too.

Joe said it was “like having a nail in your foot,” and getting it fixed was an experiment in body horror: A doctor cut a horseshoe incision in him, but the fool cut too low into his tissue, causing an infection. At this point, everybody was standing around, trying to figure out the best way to tell the embodiment of America’s heart and soul that they had to lop his foot off due to a medical whoop-se-daisy when one of them came up with a brilliant idea: Let’s cover it with maggots, and see what happens!

“They tried everything and in desperation resorted to an old wives’ remedy… They raised a family of tiny maggots in a mesh cage, clamped it on my heel overnight, and the next morning when I awoke, the maggots were dead and the infected tissue was gone.”

–Joe DiMaggio, Honolulu Advertiser

And hot damn, it worked like a charm. But that’s just the sort of trouble a bone spur can get you in. One minute, you’re a baseball icon. The next, you are still a baseball icon, but a doctor is assuring you that it’s totally okay to go to sleep with this basket of squirming larva eating part of your foot.

So bone spurs are a nasty business. And early this season, the discomfort they caused had robbed Foltynewicz of throwing the slider that had made his 2018 such a success. We’ve seen it plenty of times: A guy with a career year gets his command stolen from him, and he’s never the same again. But Foltynewicz was determined not to stay that guy.

On Friday afternoon, he wasn’t. He protected his precious 1-0 lead with more sliders than he’d ever thrown.

He kept throwing them. The Braves kept their lead. And when Brian Snitker pinch hit for his starter after seven shut-out innings, Adam Duvall came in and gave Atlanta some breathing run with a two-run shot. It wasn’t until after Foltynewicz had left the game and, after a scoreless eighth from Max Fried, Mark Melancon entered it that the Cardinals began stirring again, with two Redbirds reaching base in the top of the ninth with only one out. Yet, Melancon took a deep breath, quietly recited the archaic chants he’d practiced to keep the Devil Magic at bay, and with Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna on, put away Yadier Molina and Kolten Wong to end the game.

Slim leads are terrifying, especially if you’re the pitcher protecting them in the playoffs, teetering on the edge of an 0-2 hole. The magnitude of the terror grows when you find yourself in the dugout after a job well done, and run threatening. But with the right command, the forgiving sort of bone spurs, and a bit of nervous patience, a slim lead can be enough.

Sometimes there’s no understanding it. Sometimes, you just keep throwing sliders.





Justin has contributed to FanGraphs and is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He is known in his family for jamming free hot dogs in his pockets during an off-season tour of Veterans Stadium and eating them on the car ride home.

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JohnThacker
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JohnThacker

Glavine, of course, also pitched 8 innings of a slightly more famous 1-0 victory in the clinching Game 6 of the 1995 World Series.

The decision whether to pull Folty for Duvall was a tough one for Snitker. There was a lot of second guessing in real time in the park, online, and among viewers at home. Luckily for him the home run quickly silenced those concerns.

TKDC
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TKDC

After seven innings, in the playoffs, with a pitcher who is not a bona fide ace, that seems an easy if not quite popular call to make. The decision to pull Fried, who looked filthy in the 8th, for a guy who threw almost 30 pitches the day before, had to be a tough one to make.