If only by the approximate width of a beer-soaked bar coaster, the St. Louis Cardinals were able to keep Austin Riley inside the ballpark Thursday night. That would constitute their major achievement of the evening.
The second game in the already eventful career of the 22-year-old Brave may have lacked the panache of his opening night, Wednesday, when he homered off these same Cardinals. He merely had to settle for three more hits – a double and a pair of singles, an RBI and a couple runs scored in the Braves’ 10-2 victory. The kid decided to show off some of the gentler subtleties of his bat work, while pushing his average to .571.
Ah, but that second-inning double. It caught the last inch of the border atop the brick wall that inconveniently juts into right-center field at SunTrust, the near-miss confirmed by replay. Done in by the last application of mortar off the mason’s trowel.
“I think I came about as close as I could to hitting a home run without doing it as I could,” Riley said.
If nothing else, the direction of the almost homer demonstrated the ability of the right-handed Riley to hit for power even to the opposite field. Another revelation in a two-game debut full of them.
“That shows you what kind of power that kid’s got,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s going to be able to hit it out all over the ballpark. He’s big, strong, that ball jumps off his bat. We’re going to have two or three guys on this club that can do damage to all fields.”
The Braves pounded out 14 hits Thursday and exacted some sweet vengeance for the 14-3 loss the Cardinals put on them in the first of the three-game series. Four innings in, they already had chased venerable Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright.
Colluding with the next-gen Riley was veteran Braves starter Julio Teheran, who was a little vintage while also a little too free-spending with his pitches.
Walking two of the first three hitters he faced – issuing four walks total in five innings – Teheran nonetheless kept the Cards scoreless before being lifted after yielding a leadoff single in the sixth. He had thrown 104 pitches to that point, giving up just two hits and striking out four.
The win pushed Teheran’s record to 3-4. He has allowed just one earned run in his last 18 innings, while finally getting ample run support. His previous two stingy outings amounted to no-decisions for Teheran (the Braves did win those starts, though).
“I love the fact we got him a win,” Snitker said. “He’s been pitching really good and it seems like every time I take him out of the game, I’m thinking, man, I wish we had five runs for you because he’s been pitching good enough to win. We’ve been winning the games, I just like to see him get a little something for his efforts.”
Teheran is quite pleased with his last month of work. “The way I’ve been pitching lately, I guess the last five starts, I’m really feeling the way I like to feel. I like I got control of my pitches, that I can throw in any count,” he said.
More impressive may have been Teheran’s work at the plate. How many pitchers would Snitker trust to lay down a second-inning squeeze bunt? Such is his control with the bat that Teheran is one of them, and he executed perfectly, driving home Riley for the Braves second run with a perfect squeeze. He followed that in the fourth with an RBI single.
Almost everyone in one dugout was hitting Thursday night – eight different Braves collected at least one hit. None of them, not even 3-for-4-with-a-home-run Freddie Freeman, seemed any more sure of what he was doing than the two-game veteran, Riley.
“He’s confident and rightly so,” Snitker said.
Said Riley, “Coming into this I kind of told myself: Same game, got to have the same approach. Go out there with a plan, not just free swinging. I think I stuck to that pretty well.”