These days, when the Braves assemble a dramatic win, Austin Riley seems to be in the middle of it.
Playing to a 6-6 draw until heavy rain forced a pause in the seventh, the Braves defeated the Pirates 8-7 in an 11-inning affair, taking the first three games of the four-meeting set. Ozzie Albies delivered the game-winning double that scored Riley.
“Just trying to stay hard over the middle,” Albies said. “He left a fastball a little high over the plate and I put a bat on it. As soon as it hit the gap, I said ‘Yeah, he’s going to score. We won this game.’ ”
Pittsburgh plated five runs off Mike Soroka in five frames, producing his worst start of the season. The Braves managed to match the Pirates punch-for-punch — even in the ninth, when Josh Bell’s go-ahead homer off Luke Jackson was negated by Austin Riley’s equalizer to begin the bottom of the inning.
“They’re all big,” Snitker said of Riley’s timely hits. “They’ve given us the lead, tied the game, put us ahead. They’ve all been big. He comes up in big spots.”
Riley came up again in the 11th, when he was plucked in the hand by a Michael Feliz pitch. Trainer George Poulis checked on the slugger and he remained in the game, taking first base. He ended the night double shy of the cycle.
Albies hit a gapper between center and left that allowed Riley to round the bases and slide into home for the winning run. It capped off another lethal night for the offense, which has scored seven or more runs in four consecutive games for the first time since April 2017.
“I knew it was in the gap, so I just ran as hard as I can,” Riley said. “It was a good hit by Ozzie. This team thrives off (big moments). It gives me the confidence to go up there and do the same. I love being in these situations.”
Soroka, describing Riley’s knack for coming through in important situations, added: “He’s always been the guy. I want him at the plate. Tied game, down, I don’t care what it is. I want him at the plate. He’s just got that clutch gene I guess.”
They’ve needed every ounce of that firepower to top the Pirates. Despite the lopsided results, Pittsburgh has devoured Braves pitching and made each of the wins extremely hard-earned.
“This is a tough team here,” Snitker said. “I look at three or four of those guys and they’re going to the Hall of Fame. I’ve never seen guys who just battle, they put the ball (in play), hit them where (defenders) aren’t. Good at-bats. All good at-bats. Josh Bell is amazing to me. He’s some kind of locked in. Even balls he fights off to get a better pitch. The kid is amazing.”
Coupled with the Phillies’ 2-0 loss to Arizona, the Braves took sole possession of first place in the National League East for the first time this season. The Braves, who’ve spent three other days tied for the division lead, host the Phillies this weekend.
But before all eyes center on divisional action, the Braves and Pirates meet for the final time Thursday afternoon. Julio Teheran and his 3.03 ERA will oppose Jose Musgrove (4-6, 4.40), who was ejected from his start Monday following the teams’ benches-clearing ruckus.
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