ATLANTA — "Boooooooo! Booooooo!"
You couldn't half blame the vast majority of the 42,911 Atlanta Braves fans crowded into SunTrust Park on Friday for boisterously voicing their frustration. It was the bottom of the seventh inning, and Brian Snitker, the home team's manager, was electing to lift starting pitcher Mike Foltynewicz in favor of pinch-hitter Adam Duvall.
How could he?
After all, the Braves' lead over the St. Louis Cardinals at that moment in the second game of their best-of-five National League Division Series was just a skinny 1-0 advantage. And Folty was having the kind of game all pitchers dream about come October. He'd thrown only 81 pitches in his seven innings of work. He'd struck out seven. He'd walked zero Cardinals.
So with the bullpen meltdown a night earlier that led to a 7-6 Redbirds win still painfully fresh on their minds, the fans booed. Loudly. Even Duvall said of their ire: "The fans let me know they wanted Folty to stay in. We all did. He was grooving out there. It was fun to watch."
But Snitker also felt he needed more runs. And Duvall had, reportedly, previously homered off stingy St. Louis pitcher Jack Flaherty, even if Snitker did label it as "minimal success."
It was apparently so minimal that when Duvall was asked to recall that long-ago home run as a Cincinnati Red, he replied, "I didn't know that."
Turns out, Snitker knew something. Something big enough to alter dramatically the complexion of this NLDS.
Because when Duvall stepped to the plate against Flaherty with Braves catcher Brian McCann on base with two outs, he swatted a home run to center field on a 3-2 count that was anything but minimal.
It put the Braves up 3-0, and they won two innings later by that same score, which means this best-of-five series is now tied at one win apiece and the Redbirds can't use their ace again until a Game 5, if necessary, back in Atlanta on Wednesday. It was also the first time St. Louis had been shut out since Aug. 5 against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The two teams play the next two in St. Louis, with Game 3 slated for 4:10 p.m. EDT on Sunday and Game 4 at 3:07 p.m. EDT on Monday.
Said Duvall of that opportunity, "(Thursday) didn't go as we planned, but we came back today. We're going to St. Louis and looking to get two wins there and just keep playing good baseball."
In many ways, so much of this season couldn't have gone less like both Foltynewicz and Duvall had planned at the start of spring training.
Both found themselves spending much of their summers at Triple-A Gwinnett. Duvall was there because of a glut of outfielders. Folty was there because he'd lost the vast majority of the confidence that had arguably made him the Braves' best pitcher down the stretch of the 2018 season.
"I have so much respect for a guy like that that does that," Snitker said. "That's hard. When you've been up here, and you've been an established major leaguer, to go back to Triple-A and put the dedication and devotion and everything that (they) did, it says a lot about the man and character of the man."
In many ways, Duvall's demotion was the tougher. Foltynewicz knew his big-league stuff had abandoned him. He desperately needed a reboot outside the glare of the majors.
But Duvall's was more a case of bad luck and bad timing than bad playing.
"Duvy could have started on 29 other teams on opening day," Folty said. "We just have a deep lineup, a deep organization. These things happen. He was the fifth outfielder. But he didn't pout. He didn't quit. And he put his head down and he went and hit 30-plus home runs down there. It's really impressive."
This Braves win was impressive from start to finish. Much like Thursday night, they took a 1-0 lead in the opening inning. Unlike Thursday, they never relinquished it against the Cardinals' best pitcher. Never has a team better followed its manager's mantra to "turn the page and live for today."
As Snitker was wrapping up his postgame news conference, he said of baseball in general, "The game is always going to be about starting pitching."
But because of that, it's also about the manager knowing when to remove his starting pitcher before he has faced one batter too many, however uncertain his bullpen may be.
Justifiably concerned about the sometimes brittle Braves bullpen, the SunTrust crowd swiftly booed Snitker for lifting Foltynewicz in favor of Duvall.
But Folty said he heard something slightly different.
"I thought they were saying 'Doov! Doov!'" he said.
Next time, they just might.