If all you knew about the first game were those two facts, who would you guess who hit the winning stroke? Freddie Freeman, isn’t it? You know, the National League MVP in 2020 and the face of the Atlanta franchise.
But the correct answer is Austin Riley, whose emergence this season could just mean Atlanta has a new MVP in town.
Riley’s RBI crossed the left-field line against Los Angeles Dodgers relief ace Blake Treinen took the Braves to a 3-2 win in Game 1 of the series. Earlier, Riley tied the game at 2 apiece with a home run on the left field box in the fourth inning against Tony Gonsolin, making his hero an overnight trip.
“You dream of it when you’re little,” Riley said.
With the heroic twins, Riley continued a breakout season and joined an exclusive roster of players in the history of the Braves to have a tied shot and a winning shot in the same playoff contest: Tony Gonzalez (1969), Hank Aaron (1969), Michael Tucker (1998) and Brian Jordan (1999).
« [Riley’s improvement] is really noticeable, ”said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “You just see the confidence. “
As for Freeman – who placed the Braves in the NLCS with an eighth inning homerun against the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday in the Divisional Series – Saturday’s outing was arguably the worst game of his playoff career. For the first time, he struck four times on catches in a playoff game, his fourth breath coming just minutes before Riley’s exploits.
But Riley’s emergence this season, which continued into the playoffs, has meant something crucial for a club that is finally trying to overtake the National League giant in the Dodgers: this still maturing club is much more than Freddie Freeman these days.
“I don’t know if we won a lot of games that Freddie [struggled] Braves manager Brian Snitker said. ” And it’s a good thing. I mean, it just shows you how these guys grow and mature and now is not too great a time for them. “
Riley, 24, entered this season with a career batting average of .232 and 26 home runs in 131 games over two big-league campaigns. This season, those numbers have exploded, as he hit 0.303 with 33 home runs, 107 RBIs and 6.1 WAR, according to baseball-reference.com. These numbers are the reason why fans may not have been fooled by the MVP chants they conducted Riley’s way.
After Riley’s winning shot, even as teammate Ozzie Albies walked home with the tie-breaker run, the Braves were out of the dugout in pursuit of Riley to celebrate. Red fireworks began to emerge from the top of the stadium, as part of the celebratory light show. The mascot circled the field with a gigantic Braves flag. It’s the kind of jubilation one expects from a hit won by the home side in a playoff game.
“He’s the big boss,” Albies said, while describing his goal of successfully stealing the second base to get into scoring position for Riley. “Yeah, once I got up, I [said] I go [to steal] so I can be in a position to score for Riley. I’m pretty sure; he was hot. He’s gonna do the job. Without a doubt. “
However, without Riley the mood in Cobb County could have been very different, as it was a game the Braves really needed to win.
Atlanta started his young ace Max Fried, who entered the game as baseball’s hottest pitcher. They had home advantage over the Dodgers at 106 wins thanks to the latter’s status as a wild-card team. And the Dodgers, who needed five grueling games to knock out the San Francisco Giants’ 107 wins in the NLDS, opted for an enclosure game in response to a busy pitching staff.
For most of Saturday’s game, the bet worked. Fried hasn’t been as sharp as he has been in recent weeks, but he limited the Dodgers to a pair of runs in six innings. Still, the Braves only managed a pair of runs on the Dodgers reliever parade – eight of them by the end of the night.
If Atlanta hadn’t taken the win and stepped into Game 2 of the series – with home ground advantage for Los Angeles and the Dodgers sending future Hall of Fame member Max Scherzer to the mound on Sunday – a slight panic might have set in at Truist Park.
“It doesn’t get any easier, that’s for sure,” Snitker said. “I think all of these wins here in this thing are going to be huge. They are all going to be hard to come by. “
Instead of panicking, there was some heckling – and for that, you have to thank Riley, the Braves’ new MVP contender.
“You see what he does, the at-bats in the [division series], here, ”Snitker said. “I think this kid has definitely taken a step forward. ”