Austin Riley walks it off as Braves sweep D-Backs

Austin Riley’s historic month ended in the only appropriate manner.

Riley smacked a walk-off double to secure the Braves’ 1-0 win over the Diamondbacks on Sunday, completing the three-game sweep at Truist Park. Riley, baseball’s hottest hitter, stole the headline from starters Max Fried and Merrill Kelly, who each pitched seven scoreless innings.

“That was pretty sweet,” Riley said. “Anything to help the team win. In that fashion, that was awesome. It was hot out there so I was ready to get in the AC.”

First baseman Matt Olson reached with one out in the ninth against former Braves closer Mark Melancon. Riley then set the franchise record for extra base hits in a month with a walk-off double. It was Riley’s 26th extra base hit, breaking a tie with Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, who had 25 extra base hits in July 1961. Riley doubled twice in this July’s final contest to pass Aaron.

Riley was somewhat aware that he was within striking distance of the record, he said, but he didn’t realize he was only two extra base hits away entering Sunday.

“That’s pretty special,” Riley said of passing Aaron. “The type of player he was, on and off the field, I’ll hold that (close) to me for a long time.”

Beyond the extra base knocks, Riley had a ludicrously productive July, one that should earn him National League player of the month honors. He hit .423 (44-for-104) with 14 doubles, 11 homers and 25 RBIs over 26 games. He had a 1.344 OPS. Riley has forced himself into the NL MVP discussion alongside players such as Paul Goldschmidt and former teammate Freddie Freeman.

“He has to be in the conversation, right?” Fried said of Riley’s MVP odds. “What he’s been able to do, what he’s meant to this team. We’ve had a lot of guys play pretty well this year, but for him to put it together and have the month he’s had, he’s for sure in the conversation I’d say.”

Fried entered Sunday with a 2.38 ERA over his past 10 starts, though he had a 4.15 ERA in his two starts since the All-Star break (six earned runs over 13 innings). Fried was at his best Sunday, stifling an Arizona offense that produced four runs over three games this weekend.

The All-Star left-hander tossed seven scoreless innings, allowing four hits and striking out five. A day after Ian Anderson retired the first 14 Diamondbacks, Fried retired the first 13 before Jake McCarthy singled in the fifth (McCarthy also earned the first hit off Anderson Saturday).

Fried twice ran into adversity. The Diamondbacks opened the sixth with a walk and single. Fried’s response: a strikeout, a liner to left and a pop out to the pitcher from Ketel Marte, Arizona’s best player.

The Diamondbacks again made Fried work in the seventh, leading manager Brian Snitker to visit the mound. Snitker kept Fried in the game, and he rewarded his manager’s faith by retiring Jordan Luplow with a quiet pop out to second baseman Orlando Arcia.

Sunday marked the fourth time Fried has logged seven innings in his past eight starts. He hasn’t just been the Braves’ ace. He’s been their workhorse, reliably covering bulk innings for them and lessening the burden on the bullpen. The Braves’ pitching dominated Arizona this weekend, allowing only four runs across 27 innings.

“We got some great starts, the bullpen,” manager Brian Snitker said. “It’s been really good. The bullpen guys did a great job. It’s been really good to see.”

The Braves mustered three hits off Kelly. They went 0-for-2 with runners in scoring position and struck out eight times. Kelly is one of baseball’s more underrated frontline starters, lowering his ERA to 2.87 over 21 starts.

Catcher Travis d’Arnaud threw out two attempted base stealers Sunday, including one in the ninth. Kenley Jansen pitched the final frame and didn’t have any complications after he was unavailable Saturday due to a minor back issue.

The Braves are off Monday before beginning a two-game series against the Phillies Tuesday at Truist Park. But all eyes center on Tuesday’s 6 p.m. trade deadline, which occurs around 80 minutes before Braves-Phillies first pitch.