If you try to ask the average person where they were on July 24, you’ll be hard-pressed to get an answer out of them. It’s hard for some people to tell you what they were doing at this particular time last week, so it would be difficult to ask people to tell you exactly what they were doing a few months ago. The only way that you can figure that out for sure is if you have some sort of trail.
If you ask Mike Foltynewicz or Adam Duvall where they were at July 24 and what they were doing on that day, they could tell you. You also have proof of what they were doing, as well.
They were both in Louisville and preparing for a noon start as the Gwinnett Stripers were taking on the Louisville Bats. Both of them were big leaguers who had surely grown past having to ride the bus across the International League. However, they both found themselves playing for the other suburban Atlanta baseball team for different reasons. Foltynewicz was there to recover his mojo without costing the big league team any more games, and Duvall was there to stay ready as part of the deepest depths of Atlanta’s outfield brigade.
October was likely the last thing on either of their minds during what was surely a muggy summer day in Kentucky. As fate would have it, they both ended up turning their time in Gwinnett into part of their journey towards playing a huge role for the Braves once the postseason rolled around. Foltynewicz’s quick stint with the Stripers was probably the last thing on his mind as he was mowing through the St. Louis Cardinals lineup in Game 2 of the NLDS, and it would be safe to say that Duvall may be on his way to replacing his Stripers MVP award with the honor of being the big-time hitter for the Braves in the NLDS.
Duvall earned that team MVP award by slamming 32 homers and picking up a wRC+ of 137 over 101 along the way. This ended up translating into major league success, as he hit 10 homers in 41 games in the bigs, with his wRC+ sitting at 121. It didn’t get him a starting gig with the Braves, but it did get him the opportunity to be trusted with at-bats in the postseason as a pinch-hitter. He’s taken that chance and ran wild with it here in the NLDS.
Game 1 saw Duvall keep a game tied with an outfield assist that made the Cardinals pay for a questionable decision to send Kolten Wong home on a base hit. That moment has become forgotten in the two bigger moments that he’s delivered since then. He was the hero at the plate for the Braves in Game 2, which is when he hit a massive home run off of Jack Flaherty to put the Braves ahead and lift them to a series-tying victory as the series went to St. Louis.
The venue change didn’t hinder Duvall either, and he ended up being the pinch-hit hero for a second game in a row. After Dansby Swanson hit a two-out double to tie the game at one run apiece in the ninth inning of a thriller, Adam Duvall put the Braves ahead with a double of his own. For two straight games, Duvall had the biggest hit of the night — his homer on Friday had a WPA of .168 and his double on Sunday had a WPA of .414. The bright sunlight of minor league baseball at high noon was clearly just preparation for the brighter lights of the NLDS during October. It’s the type of moment that will have any baseball player floating on cloud nine, but it has to feel especially nice for someone whose gone through such a grinder of a season like Adam Duvall has had in 2019.
Duvall’s starting pitcher back on July 24 had to have been feeling fantastic on Oct. 4 as well. Duvall came in as a pinch-hitter in Game 2 to replace Mike Foltynewicz, who marked his solid return to the majors with a postseason moment of his own. He became the first Braves pitcher to go seven innings deep in a playoff game since Tom Glavine did it in 2001, and the performance on the mound was Glavine-esque, too. Still, the Braves were only up by one run once it was their turn to bat in the seventh, so the crowd in Cobb County booed Adam Duvall once he came up to the plate to bat for Foltynewicz.
The boos of a crowd in October may have been harsh for Duvall, but they must have felt a lot better than the atmosphere of a noon game in Triple-A in July. Duvall turned those boos into cheers with a homer and then he stunned an opposing stadium into silence with a double in the very next game. It’s funny how things can change over the course of a few months.
Playoff baseball is truly special, and it must feel especially good if you were spending any significant time in the minors during that same year. Adam Duvall and Mike Foltynewicz must really appreciate what’s happening for them right now — maybe even more than how much Braves fans appreciate their October efforts at the moment.