“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.”
Albies made it possible by reaching on a soft hit and then swiping second base. Riley punished a middle-placed slider from Treinen down the left-field line to end it. It was also the second consecutive year Riley provided the go-ahead hit in Game 1 of the NLCS; his homer off Treinen in the ninth inning last year sparked the offense in a 5-1 victory. On Saturday, he had a homer in the fourth and then the walk-off hit.
“He’s the big boss,” Albies said of Riley. “Once I got on, I (said) I’m going (to steal) so I can be in scoring position for Riley. He’s been hot. He’s going to do the job. No doubt.”
Braves starter Max Fried allowed two runs over six innings. The Dodgers’ first four hits came on an off-speed pitches from Fried. The lefty, who had MLB’s best ERA in the second half, uncharacteristically had to work through traffic. Six of the eight hits he allowed came with two strikes.
Yet Fried kept his team in it. He didn’t log a clean frame but held the Dodgers to 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position. Despite lacking his A-grade stuff, Fried still didn’t issue a walk for the third consecutive start. He last walked a hitter during his Sept. 19 outing at San Francisco. He at one point threw 23 consecutive strikes, becoming the first pitcher do to so in a postseason game over the past 20 years, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
“I felt like I was fighting myself at times, not executing two-strike pitches as well as I would have wanted, but I was working really well with (catcher) Travis (d’Arnaud) back there, really relied on him a lot, especially calling pitches later in that outing,” Fried said. “I felt like he had a really good feel on that game and I really relied on him. 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.”
Fried pitched to contact – an emphasis during his emergence into a frontline starter – and let his defense help him. His outing finished with Albies making a leaping catch that prevented a ball from reaching the outfield and scoring the go-ahead run.
“I don’t know that Max really felt like he was on tonight, but he just kept pitching, never gave in,” manager Brian Snitker said. “And you get six innings, six innings is tough in a playoff game because it’s just such an emotional and adrenaline-type driven outing. I thought he did great. He was really good and he had to really work through the sixth. That inning there wasn’t an easy inning for him and he pretty much laid it out there to get through that inning.”
The Braves struck quickly against the Dodgers, who deployed a bullpen game. Outfielder Eddie Rosario, moved to leadoff with Jorge Soler’s absence, opened with a single against Corey Knebel. He stole second as first baseman Freddie Freeman struck out.
Rosario moved to third on Albies’ grounder to the right side of the infield. He scored on Knebel’s wild pitch that eluded catcher Will Smith and bounced to the backstop. Snitker’s decision to move Rosario to leadoff paid immediate dividends.
But unlike the Brewers, who struggled mightily to produce offense against the Braves in their Division Series, the Dodgers could swiftly respond. They did so with a pair of two-out hits – an AJ Pollock double and Chris Taylor single – off Fried to even the score. Smith homered off an 0-2 fastball from Fried in the fourth to put the Dodgers ahead. Riley answered in the bottom of the frame with a rocketed solo shot off Tony Gonsolin to reset the score.
Despite a leadoff bloop double from Taylor, Tyler Matzek again showed why he’s one of the best lefty relievers in MLB. Pinch-hitter Austin Barnes laid down a perfect bunt to give the Dodgers a runner at third with one out. Matzek responded by getting former MVP Mookie Betts to pop out in foul ground. He then struck out Trea Turner with a low slider.
“I’ve got a hundred percent confidence in Tyler,” Fried said. “He’s been doing it all year. When you have a lefty that comes in and is in the high 90s and has a wipeout slider, you’re pretty confident that if you just hold the game tied, or with a little lead, that he’s going to keep holding it. He’s thrown every game this whole playoffs and obviously he’s been extremely important to our success, so anytime that I can hand the ball off to him it’s probably a good thing.”
Luke Jackson followed with a perfect eighth. Jackson’s regular season success has carried into October. He’s pitched in all five of the Braves’ games this postseason, allowing three hits and no runs. Will Smith followed with his fourth scoreless inning in the postseason, helped by Taylor’s base-running error in which he was caught between second and third following Cody Bellinger’s pinch-hit single. The mistake loomed large for the Dodgers, who also went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
“I think by the book he should have probably stayed,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “It was hit softly. It was kind of towards the gap, and so I felt that he thought he had a good read on it. It’s one of those where you got to pick. You either are going to go hard, and I don’t know if Joc (Pederson) would have thrown to third right there and just conceded that base, or just hold up and two outs and give Mookie a chance (Betts was on deck). But I think right there he was kind of caught in between. That’s kind of when you get in trouble.”
Game 2 will be Sunday evening at Truist Park. Right-hander Ian Anderson, who started Game 7 of last year’s NLCS, will start for the Braves against Max Scherzer, the long-time National whom the Dodgers acquired at the trade deadline to bolster their odds in October.