A few clutch jumps from breakout hitter Austin Riley got the Atlanta underdog Braves off to a quick start in the NL Championship Series.
Riley homed and scored the winning run with a late-ninth inning single to give Atlanta a 3-2 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 1 on Saturday night.
Blake Treinen struck out Freddie Freeman at bat to open the ninth before giving up Ozzie Albies’ single bloop at center field. Albies stole second and Riley followed with his practice line in the corner of left field.
“It was my mindset – to put something on the line and see what happens,” Riley said after delivering the first hit of his career.
The 24-year-old slugger extended his arms in celebration as he rounded first base before being assaulted by his teammates in a happy swarm that spread into shallow center field.
“You dream of it when you’re little,” Riley said.
Albies told first baseman Eric Young Sr. he would fly off to steal second so he could get into scoring position.
“I knew (Riley) was going to get the job done,” Albies said.
“As soon as he touched it, I took off. I started screaming, screaming up to the marble.
Riley also scored in the fourth. The third baseman set career highs for this year’s NL Eastern champ Atlanta in his third major league season, with .303 with 33 home runs, 107 RBIs and a .898 OPS in 160 league-leading games.
“He’s come a long way in a short period of time, I feel. Even last year, I think he didn’t have all of these tools. He can beat you in so many ways now, and he’s always had that power, but now he’s got such great hitters together, ”said Dodgers infielder Trea Turner.
“He’s a polite, hats off hitter because I think he’s gotten to the point where he’s a really good player and there’s a reason fans are chanting MVP for him.”
Riley’s big game was especially important as Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman struck out four strikes against four different Los Angeles pitchers after having just one four-strikeout game in the regular season.
Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said Riley has proven he can take on this lead role.
“I think this kid has definitely taken a step forward,” Snitker said.
The teams meet in the NL Championship Series for the second consecutive season. The Dodgers recovered from a 3-1 deficit to win last year’s playoffs in seven games before also winning the World Series.
Game 2 takes place Sunday night in Atlanta before the series moves to Los Angeles.
The Dodgers wild-card wasted a scoring opportunity in the start of the ninth. Will Smith got two strikeouts before poking Chris Taylor. Pinch hitter Cody Bellinger hit a single to right field, but Taylor was caught and tagged in a count between second and third that started with right fielder Joc Pederson’s pitch to shortstop Dansby Swanson.
“I thought if he had continued he might have had a chance to finish third,” said Riley. “But it was a great Dansby piece. Just being able to get out of that round there was huge.”
Corey Knebel worked one inning as the Dodgers’ opener in a bullpen game, allowing one run. Eddie Rosario started with a single, stole the second, moved up to third on Albies’ field and scored on Knebel’s wild throw to Riley.
The Dodgers, who won 18 more games than Atlanta in the regular season, tied for second on AJ Pollock’s two-strike double and Taylor’s RBI single.
Will Smith’s home run in the fourth, his third of the playoffs, gave the Dodgers a 2-1 lead. Riley’s two-out homerun against Tony Gonsolin in the fourth tied.
The Dodgers beat the Braves 10-6, but left runners on base each of the first seven innings except the fourth. The Los Angeles hitters were 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position.
“We stopped the races all night. So we didn’t win the game because we didn’t prevent the points, ”said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “We just didn’t get the hits when we needed them.”
No Braves pitcher had a perfect inning until the eighth, when Luke Jackson had three consecutive strikeouts.
Justin Turner, who was 2 for 24 in the Dodgers’ first two rounds of the playoffs, had a hit. Albert Pujols was held without a hit on three strikeouts before going out in the ninth.
Braves starter Max Fried allowed two runs and eight hits in six innings. He threw 23 straight strikes, the most in a playoff game in 20 years, according to the Elias Athletic Bureau.
“I don’t know if Max really felt like he was tonight,” Snitker said. “Max just kept throwing.”
Snitker was surprised to learn that his batters had hit 14 strikeouts in the game.
“I didn’t know we hit that many times,” he said. “I’m not sitting there with a clicker.”
Braves RHP Ian Anderson faces Dodgers ace Max Scherzer in Game 2.
Scherzer was tentatively scheduled to start Game 1, even though he got his first career save to close Thursday night’s decisive game of the Dodgers’ NL Division Series victory over San Francisco. He was pushed back because he expects to be full after another day off.
Scherzer pitched 12 1/3 innings in three playoff appearances, allowing two runs and six hits with 16 strikeouts. Scherzer, who pitched for Washington for more than six seasons in the eastern NL before being traded to the Dodgers this season, is very familiar with the Braves roster, who he says “starts with Freddie Freeman first.” .
“Hands down, he’s the best hitter I’ve had to face,” Scherzer said. “And I love facing him because he’s the one you go up against when you have to face the best.”
Anderson is 3-0 with a 0.76 ERA in five career playoff starts. He pitched five innings, allowing just three walks without a walk, in a 3-0 victory over Milwaukee in the Division series.