After a three-day break, the Atlanta Braves continued their winning ways this postseason with a dramatic 3-2 walk-off victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series.
Austin Riley played the role of hero in the win. After hitting a solo homer in the fourth that tied the game at two, he walked it off in the bottom of the ninth with a double into left field that scored Ozzie Albies from second.
The Braves, playing in their first game since eliminating the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday, sent ace Max Fried to the mound for his second start of the playoffs. The southpaw tossed six shutout innings with nine strikeouts in Game 2 against the Brewers.
For the second consecutive game, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts eschewed from using a traditional starter in favor of reliever Corey Knebel. The right-hander started Game 5 of the National League Division Series against the San Francisco Giants on Thursday.
Both pitching staffs fared very well in this game. Fried only allowed two runs over six innings. Seven Dodgers combined to allow just six hits, but Blake Treinen took the loss because he was unable to get through the ninth.
Notable Game Stats
- Max Fried (ATL): 6 IP, 8 H, 2 ER, 5 K
- Austin Riley (ATL): 2-for-4, Solo HR, 2 RBI
- Ozzie Albies (ATL): 2-for-4, run scored
- Mookie Betts (LA): 0-for-4
- Will Smith (LA): 1-for-4, Solo HR
- Chris Taylor (LA): 2-for-3, 2B, RBI
Braves Steal Game 1 in Dramatic Fashion
The biggest saving grace for the Braves in 2021 was Riley's breakout performance. The 2015 first-round pick only hit .232/.288/.448 in 131 games between 2019 and 2020 combined. He hit .303/.367/.531 with 33 homers and 107 RBI in 160 games this season.
Riley already delivered in the playoffs before tonight, with a solo homer in Game 2 against the Brewers to seal the 3-0 win for Atlanta.
The 24-year-old had the biggest homer of his career in the fourth inning on Saturday to tie the score at two.
Atlanta Braves @Braves
And this game is TIED, cuz <a href="https://twitter.com/austinriley1308?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@austinriley1308</a> said so!<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/BattleATL?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#BattleATL</a> <a href="https://t.co/P0DTE8i0aZ">pic.twitter.com/P0DTE8i0aZ</a>
It would have been the biggest hit of his career, if not for what he did in the bottom of the ninth off Blake Treinen.
Riley's heroics on Saturday also took some of the focus away from Freddie Freeman's rough night. The reigning NL MVP went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts. He didn't have one game during the regular season with no hits and four strikeouts.
Albies did a fantastic job of putting pressure on Treinen in the bottom of the ninth. The two-time All-Atar reached first on a flyball single that fell between Taylor and Trea Turner in the outfield.
On the first pitch of Riley's at-bat, Albies stole second to put himself in scoring position. Riley took care of business from there.
MLB Stats @MLBStats
.<a href="https://twitter.com/austinriley1308?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@austinriley1308</a> is the 8th <a href="https://twitter.com/Braves?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Braves</a> player with a <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/postseason?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#postseason</a> walk-off hit and the first since Freddie Freeman in 2020 (Wild Card Game 1).
Expectations for the Braves shifted dramatically at various points during the regular season. The biggest change came on July 10 when Ronald Acuna Jr. tore his ACL.
Rather than try to play for next year, though, Atlanta's front office pushed its chips back on the table. The outfield was rebuilt with the acquisitions of Joc Pederson and Eddie Rosario. Neither of them replaced what Acuna offers, but they were better than a standard replacement player from Triple-A.
Riley turning into a bonafide star helped offset the loss of Acuna. The Braves are still playing in October and are three wins away from reaching their first World Series since 1999.
Poor Execution Costs Dodgers
Looking at the results for the Dodgers throughout this postseason, there hasn't been a consistent formula that has given them success.
In the NL Wild Card Game against the St. Louis Cardinals, Max Scherzer only lasted 4.1 innings because he threw 94 pitches and walked three hitters. That didn't hurt them because the bullpen only allowed one hit in 4.2 innings and Chris Taylor hit a walk-off homer.
Against the Giants in the NLDS, the Dodgers were shut out in their two losses and needed a ninth-inning single by Cody Bellinger in Game 5 to advance.
By going with Knebel to start, Roberts was indirectly signaling that more creativity would be needed to get a win. Unfortunately for Roberts and the team, things didn't go as expected.
Smith gave Los Angeles its first lead in the top of the fourth with a solo homer off Fried.
The matchup with Fried didn't seem like it would cause the Dodgers more problems than if they went up against a right-handed starter. They had a .757 OPS against southpaws during the regular season.
Fried did do a good job of containing the offense during his six innings of work. The Dodgers also aided in keeping the score close.
Taylor led off the top of the seventh with a bloop double. Roberts, rather than try to keep applying pressure, opted to have Austin Barnes lay down a sacrifice bunt for the first out.
Braves reliever Tyler Matzek escaped trouble by getting Mookie Betts to pop out and Trea Turner to strike out. Los Angeles was 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position in Game 1. The Braves only had two at-bats with a runner in scoring position all game.
The Dodgers appeared to have a threat developing with two outs in the top of the ninth, but Taylor stumbled trying to go from first to third on a single by Cody Bellinger and was thrown out to end the inning.
Even when the offense has struggled to score runs in this postseason, as was the case Saturday, the pitching has often been fantastic. Eight different pitchers combined to give up just six hits with 14 strikeouts, but Treinen wound up taking the loss.
Phil Bickford, who was claimed off waivers from the Milwaukee Brewers in May, recorded three of his four outs in this game via strikeout.
One loss, especially in this situation, doesn't mean it's time for the Dodgers to start panicking. They were playing their first game after an emotional and intense five-game series against their biggest rival.
The Braves were well rested and could line up their pitching staff however manager Brian Snitker wanted. Things worked out for the NL East champions.
Heading into Game 2, though, the Dodgers will have Max Scherzer on the bump as they try to even the series. The three-time Cy Young winner has only allowed two runs in 12.1 innings over three appearances this postseason.
Max Scherzer will make his third start of the playoffs for the Dodgers in Game 2 against Ian Anderson and the Braves on Sunday at 7:38 p.m. ET on TBS.