Riley’s game-winning single in 9th lifts Braves past Dodgers

  • Atlanta Braves’ Austin Riley reacts after hitting the game winning RBI single to score Atlanta Braves’ Ozzie Albies in the ninth inning in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers Saturday. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

ATLANTA — A couple of clutch swings from breakout slugger Austin Riley got the underdog Atlanta Braves off to a fast start in the NL Championship Series.

Riley homered and drove in the winning run with a single in the bottom of the ninth inning to give Atlanta a 3-2 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 1 on Saturday night.

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Blake Treinen struck out Freddie Freeman to open the ninth before giving up Ozzie Albies’ bloop single to center field. Albies stole second and Riley followed with his line drive into the left-field corner.

“That was my mindset — put something in play and see what happens,” Riley said after delivering the first walk-off hit of his career.

The 24-year-old slugger spread his arms in celebration as he rounded first base before getting mobbed by teammates in a happy swarm that carried into shallow center field.

“You dream of that as a little kid,” Riley said.

Albies told first-base coach Eric Young Sr. he would be taking off to steal second so he could get in scoring position.

“I knew (Riley) was going to do the job,” Albies said.

“As soon as he hit it, I took off. I started yelling, screaming all the way to home plate.”

Riley also homered in the fourth. The third baseman set career highs across the board for NL East champion Atlanta this year in his third major league season, batting .303 with 33 homers, 107 RBIs and an .898 OPS in a league-leading 160 games.

“He’s come a long way in a short time, I feel like. Even last year, I think that he didn’t have all these tools. He can beat you in so many ways now, and he always had that power, but now he’s putting together such good at-bats,” Dodgers infielder Trea Turner said.

“He’s a polished hitter and hats off to him because I think he’s gotten to the point where he’s been a really good player and there’s a reason why fans are chanting MVP for him.”

Riley’s big game was especially important as Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman struck out four times against four different Los Angeles pitchers after having only one four-strikeout game in the regular season.

Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said Riley has proven he can take that lead role.

“I think that kid has definitely taken the next step forward,” Snitker said.

The teams are meeting in the NL Championship Series for the second consecutive season. The Dodgers rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win last year’s playoff in seven games before also winning the World Series.

Game 2 is Sunday night in Atlanta before the series shifts to Los Angeles.

The wild-card Dodgers wasted a scoring opportunity in the top of the ninth. Will Smith got two outs before walking Chris Taylor. Pinch-hitter Cody Bellinger hit a soft single to right field, but Taylor got caught and tagged out in a rundown between second and third that started with right fielder Joc Pederson’s throw to shortstop Dansby Swanson.

“I thought if he would have kept going, he might have had a chance at third,” Riley said. “But that was a great play by Dansby. Just being able to get out of that inning there was huge.”

Corey Knebel worked one inning as the Dodgers’ opener in a bullpen game, giving up one run. Eddie Rosario led off with a single, stole second, moved to third on Albies’ groundout and scored on Knebel’s wild pitch to Riley.

The Dodgers, who won 18 more games than Atlanta during the regular season, pulled even in the second on AJ Pollock’s two-out double and Taylor’s RBI single.

Will Smith’s homer in the fourth, his third of the postseason, gave the Dodgers a 2-1 lead. Riley’s two-out homer off Tony Gonsolin in the fourth tied it.

The Dodgers outhit the Braves 10-6 but left runners on base in each of the first seven innings except the fourth. Los Angeles hitters were 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position.

“We prevented runs all night. So we didn’t not win the game because we didn’t prevent runs,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “We just didn’t get the hits when we needed.”

No Braves pitcher posted a perfect inning until the eighth, when Luke Jackson got three consecutive outs.

Justin Turner, who was 2 for 24 in the Dodgers’ first two postseason rounds, had one hit. Albert Pujols was held without a hit on three groundouts before popping out in the ninth.

MIGHTY MAX

Braves starter Max Fried gave up two runs and eight hits in six innings. He threw 23 consecutive strikes, the most in a postseason game in 20 years, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

“I don’t know that Max really felt like he was on tonight,” Snitker said. “Max just kept pitching.”

COUNTING Ks

Snitker was surprised to learn his hitters had 14 strikeouts in the game.

“I had no idea we struck out that many times,” he said. “I’m not sitting there with a clicker.”

UP NEXT

Braves RHP Ian Anderson faces Dodgers ace Max Scherzer in Game 2.

Scherzer was tentatively scheduled to start Game 1 even though he earned his first career save to close out Thursday night’s deciding Game 5 of the Dodgers’ NL Division Series win over San Francisco. He was pushed back because he expects to be at full strength following another day of rest.

Scherzer has pitched 12 1/3 innings over three appearances in the playoffs, allowing two runs and six hits with 16 strikeouts. Scherzer, who pitched for Washington for six-plus seasons in the NL East before he was traded to the Dodgers this season, is very familiar with the Braves’ lineup, which he said “first and foremost starts with Freddie Freeman.”

“Hands down, he’s the best hitter I’ve had to face,” Scherzer said. “And I love facing him because that’s who you measure yourself against when you have to face the best.”

Anderson is 3-0 with a 0.76 ERA in five career postseason starts. He pitched five innings, allowing only three hits without a walk, in a 3-0 win over Milwaukee in the Division Series.

BOSTON 9, HOUSTON 5

HOUSTON (AP) — J.D. Martinez and Rafael Devers helped the Red Sox have a grand old time in Houston.

Boston became the first team to slug two grand slams in a postseason game, with Martinez and Devers connecting in the first two innings of a 9-5 win over the Astros on Saturday that tied their AL Championship Series at one game apiece.

Game 3 is Monday night in Boston. It’s the first of three consecutive home games for the Red Sox, back in the playoffs for the first time since winning the 2018 World Series after downing Houston in the ALCS.

Martinez made it 4-0 with his opposite-field shot off rookie Luis García with two outs in the first. It was the first career playoff slam for the four-time All-Star, who began his career with the Astros.

“That situation, the pressure is on him, it’s not on me to come through there,” Martinez said. “It’s the first inning. He has bases loaded. I’m trying to tell myself that, trying to stay relaxed and just looking for a pitch so I can just put a barrel on it.”

García exited with right knee discomfort after walking the first batter of the second inning. Jake Odorizzi took over, and shortly after a 13-minute delay while the right-hander warmed up on the field, Devers connected with one out for slam No. 2.

“J.D.’s swing was huge to get us on the board early, and then Raffy, same thing, another granny,” red-hot teammate Kiké Hernández said. “Has that ever happened before?”

It has now.

Hernández, who Boston manager Alex Cora referred to Friday night as “en fuego” after a two-homer performance in Game 1, remained on fire Saturday. He had two hits, highlighted by a solo homer in the fourth inning.

Hernández has been this postseason’s hottest hitter, leading all players with 16 hits, five homers and four doubles. His nine extra-base hits are also the most in these playoffs and tied a Red Sox postseason record with Mike Lowell (2007), Kevin Youkilis (2007) and David Ortiz (2004 &2007). His five homers are also tied for most in team history with Ortiz (2004, 2013) and Todd Walker (2003).

“The importance of the game is allowing me to stay focused and stay locked in,” Hernández said.

Red Sox starter Nathan Eovaldi permitted five hits and three runs in 5 1/3 innings.

The Astros captured a 5-4 win in the series opener as they rallied behind homers from Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa before falling into the huge hole early in this one.

“That’s a tough team,” Cora said. “It’s never comfortable with them because they’re a swing away from getting back in the game.”

The Red Sox were up 9-0 when Houston got on the board with an RBI double by Kyle Tucker with two outs in the fourth. The Astros cut the lead to 9-3 when Yuli Gurriel followed with single to right field that scored two more.

Gurriel and Jason Castro added solo homers in the ninth off Darwinzon Hernandez before Ryan Brasier got the final out.

“At the end, it was a little too close for comfort, but we got it done,” Hernández said.

Manager Dusty Baker isn’t sure how long García will be out, but he said that he’d been dealing with this issue “on and off” but didn’t tell anyone about it.

“It wasn’t bothering him enough not to pitch,’” Baker said. “We’ll make a determination in a couple of days.”

The injury to García is another blow to a Houston team trying to reach the World Series for the second time in three years. The Astros are already reeling after an injury to staff ace Lance McCullers Jr. that kept him off the roster for this series.

They won the championship in 2017, a crown tainted by the team’s sign-stealing scandal.

When McCullers went out, Baker said the team would just have to “hit more” to absorb the loss. But now that the rotation is further depleted, it’ll be an even taller task for this powerful lineup outgunning a Boston team whose offense has outpaced everyone this postseason.

So what is he asking from his offense now?

“Do some more,” he said with a chuckle while shaking his head. “You don’t have much choice, so we just have to do some more. That’s all.”

Odorizzi was left off the Division Series roster after a disappointing first season in Houston before getting a spot in this round after the injury to McCullers. He allowed seven hits and four runs in four innings Saturday in a performance that certainly isn’t good news for a team that is running short on starters.

TOUGH UP TOP

Altuve and Michael Brantley, the top two hitters in Houston’s lineup, are a combined 2 for 17 in the series with a hit each, including Altuve’s homer in Game 1.

WARM IT UP

Odorizzi was caught off guard when he was thrust into the game and hadn’t even stretched when he was called to the mound.

“I’m sure it felt like forever for y’all, but for me that was about the fastest I can warm up,” he said. “It usually takes me 30-plus minutes.”

Cora was asked if the lengthy delay impacted his team’s focus.

“It really didn’t matter if it was an hour delay or whatever,” Cora said. “We were locked in.”

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UP NEXT

There’s a day off Sunday before Houston’s José Urquidy makes his first start this postseason in Game 3 Monday. The Red Sox have yet to name their starter but should have starters Nick Pivetta and Eduardo Rodriguez available after neither were needed in the first two games.