The Atlanta Braves are the only team left in baseball with an undefeated record this postseason. They got their latest win with a magic ninth inning and a massive home run from their ninth hitter.
A year after being left off the postseason roster, Austin Riley, stationed at the bottom of the Braves’ lineup, smashed a go-ahead, 448-foot shot that spurred an offensive deluge and led to a 5-1 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series at Globe Life Field.
Entering the opener, neither the Braves nor the Dodgers had lost in the playoffs, and Los Angeles, coming off the best record in the 60-game regular season, was heavily favored. The Braves didn’t mind. In Game 1, they followed their tried-and-true formula of dominant pitching and enough offense.
Of course, it took more than three hours for the offense to get going. With the game tied at 1, Riley led off the ninth inning against Dodgers reliever Blake Treinen and took a 98 mph, two-strike fastball to left-center field to put the Braves ahead 2-1. A Ronald Acuña Jr. double, Marcell Ozuna single and Ozzie Albies home run — all, like Riley’s hit, coming after 0-2 counts — poured on the insurance runs, and Mark Melancon pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning to secure the game.
“We’re like an NBA game,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “You don’t want to leave. Because a lot of things happen in the last third.”
Riley, 23, emerged as a star in the first month of his major league career in 2019, only to slump badly in the second half and find himself spending October at home. A 6-foot-3, 220-pound third baseman and outfielder, Riley has the capacity to hit the ball far, and when he sent it toward the smattering of fans in the outfield Monday, chants and tomahawk chops accompanied him as he took his victorious lap.
“Didn’t feel my legs when I was running around the bases,” he said.
Everyone else felt it on a Braves team that had been held scoreless since the first inning, when star Freddie Freeman homered off Dodgers starter Walker Buehler.
“That’s a pretty good No. 9 hole hitter we’ve got, huh?” Freeman said.
Buehler bowed but never broke over the next four innings, walking five and striking out seven. He was outdone by Braves starter Max Fried, who lasted six innings and punched out nine but allowed a game-tying home run in the fifth by the No. 8 hitter for the Dodgers, Enrique Hernandez.
The bullpens dueled, with Brusdar Graterol working out of a Buehler-created jam in the sixth and Victor Gonzalez putting out a Dustin May fire in the eighth. Nobody could save the Dodgers in the ninth — not Treinen, who gave up the first three hits, or Jake McGee, who allowed the home run by Albies that gave the Braves breathing room and made Texas feel an awful lot like Atlanta.
“We haven’t heard anything other than fake crowd noise,” Freeman said. “This was much needed. The 11,000 people really felt like 50,000 people for us.”
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