Third baseman Austin Riley’s walk-off hit pushed the Braves past the Dodgers 3-2 in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series at Truist Park on Saturday.
Here are five takeaways from the game:
1. Riley’s MVP-caliber season didn’t always draw the national attention it perhaps deserved, but he’s garnering every bit of praise during the postseason. Riley has a hit in every game this postseason, going 5-for-15 in the NL Division Series against Milwaukee before delivering twice in the Braves’ tight win Saturday.
Riley homered off Tony Gonsolin in the fourth, his second home run of the postseason, tying the score at 2-2. After second baseman Ozzie Albies reached in the ninth on a soft hit that found the shallow outfield grass, and then stole second, Riley was positioned for his heroic moment.
He slapped a middle-placed slider from reliever Blake Treinen to left field, ending the game. It was Riley’s first career walk-off hit.
“You dream of that as a little kid,” Riley said. “It was huge. That was my first one ever. I’ve come up in quite a few situations earlier in the season and wasn’t able to get it done, but to get it done tonight was awesome.”
2. It wasn’t, however, Riley’s first late go-ahead hit in October. His home run off Treinen in last year’s NLCS Game 1 sparked the Braves’ offense, turning a 1-1 game in the ninth into a 5-1 victory. It was then called the biggest hit of Riley’s life; Saturday’s tops it, but the Braves will hope this one is remembered as a crucial moment en route to a World Series berth.
“(Riley’s improvement is) really noticeable,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “You just see the confidence. Just at the plate he’s handling velocity, spin. He can beat the shift, so he can control the barrel. He’s just a really good hitter. Defensively, he’s gotten a couple grades better, too.”
3. Starter Max Fried was far from his best, but he limited the Dodgers to two runs in six innings. Fried didn’t pitch a clean frame, but he avoided walks and kept the Dodgers at one hit in six chances with runners in scoring position.
“I felt like I was fighting myself at times, not executing two-strike pitches as well as I would have wanted,” Fried said. “Defense just made some really nice plays again. ... The only thing I was trying to do was just to keep it right there and give us an opportunity.”
4. Lefty Tyler Matzek did it again. Matzek continues to navigate every challenging situation to perfection. This time, he surrendered a bloop double to Chris Taylor to open the seventh. Pinch-hitter Austin Barnes executed a sacrifice bunt to put Taylor at third.
Matzek’s response: He retired former MVP Mookie Betts by coaxing him into a popup to first in foul ground. He then struck out Trea Turner, a long-time Braves nemesis when Turner was in Washington, on a low slider to escape the jam. Luke Jackson and Will Smith followed with scoreless frames to set up the bottom of the ninth.
“You just can’t say enough of what - day-in and day-out here lately, they’re just putting up zeros and getting in spots where they may get in a little trouble, and they find a way to get out of that,” Riley said. “I think that just builds their confidence even more each time that they go out.”
5. The Braves won the game despite striking out 14 times and not drawing a walk. First baseman Freddie Freeman had a rare four-strikeout game, his first time doing so in the postseason.
“I had no idea that we struck out that many times, quite honestly,” manager Brian Snitker said. “I’m not looking at that. I’m not sitting there with a clicker. I’m just watching the game unfold and looking, and it’s like, who are we going to bring in next and how is Max doing and I didn’t realize we did that. I look at the scoreboard. And the fact that it’s 2-2 going into the ninth doesn’t surprise me in playoff baseball because that’s why teams are here, because they can pitch. That team over there can really pitch and that bullpen’s deep. It’s not going to get any easier tomorrow either.”
Braves 3, Dodgers 2 (box score)
Stat to know
1-for-8 (The Braves held the Dodgers’ offense to a 1-for-8 mark with runners in scoring position. The Braves were just 1-for-2 in such situations in the game, with Riley’s hit the winner.)
“He’s the big boss.” – Albies on Riley
The Braves announced a sellout crowd of 41,815 for their first home NLCS game in 20 years.
Applause for Acuna
Outfielder Ronald Acuna, who’s out for the season after tearing his ACL in July, was part of team introductions pregame. The crowd erupted for Acuna, who was building an MVP case before his injury.
Ian Anderson will start for the Braves in Game 2 on Sunday against veteran right-hander Max Scherzer. The Braves are trying to build a 2-0 series lead before the NLCS shifts to Los Angeles.