'It was a matter of time': Late HR, clutch DP swing G2 to Braves

Riley provides 8th-inning blast, turns unique game-ending play after Harris' leaping grab

October 11th, 2023

ATLANTA -- All of the frustration and bewilderment that built over the first 14 innings of the National League Division Series evaporated when the Braves resuscitated their World Series hopes by constructing an incredible finish to their 5-4 win over the Phillies in Game 2 on Monday night.  

“It was really emotional, especially the way we came back,” Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud said. “So that was one of my favorite postseason games ever.”

Countless Braves fans likely had the same take after riding an emotional roller coaster. The helplessness felt during Saturday’s Game 1 shutout loss continued into Game 2, as Zack Wheeler kept Atlanta hitless through the first 5 2/3 innings. Meanwhile, Philadelphia chased Max Fried after four innings and held a four-run lead going to the sixth inning.

But just when it looked like the Phillies might head home with a 2-0 lead in this best-of-five series, the Braves showed the baseball world they still have an incredibly potent offense.  The comeback provides hope that teams that dropped the first two games at home haven’t felt. Only two of the 16 clubs (13%) that have lost Games 1 and 2 at home ended up advancing in this Division Series format.

Ronald Acuña Jr. created a run with his speed in the sixth, and Travis d’Arnaud chased Wheeler with a two-run homer in the seventh. All of this set the stage for Austin Riley to hit a go-ahead homer with two outs in the eighth.

It was the third time a Braves player has hit a go-ahead homer in the eighth inning or later of a postseason game. The other players to do this were Michael Tucker in Game 5 of the 1998 NL Championship Series vs. the Padres and Eric Hinske in Game 3 of the 2010 NLDS vs. the Giants.

“You just try to take those moments in,” Riley said. “The postseason is special. This is an awesome time of year and awesome baseball.”

Adding to the awesomeness of this comeback was the incredible finish. When Nick Castellanos’ line drive jetted toward the right-center-field fence with one out in the ninth and Bryce Harper on first base, there was reason to wonder if he’d hit a go-ahead homer. But center fielder Michael Harris II caught the long drive as he crashed into the wall, then he quickly fired the ball back toward the infield, where an alert Riley grabbed the loose ball and made a throw to first baseman Matt Olson that beat Harper back to the bag.

“I was thinking double play,” Braves legend Dale Murphy said as he exited through the stadium tunnel. “I just wasn’t thinking double play that way.”

The ending was unique. But the comeback felt familiar for the Braves, who ranked second in 2023 among MLB teams with 12 wins when trailing after seven innings during the regular season. The 5-4 win on Monday matched their largest comeback victory in a playoff game. They also trailed by four runs through five innings in their 5-4 win over the Giants in Game 2 of the 2010 NLDS.

“I guess it was the perfect way to draw it up,” Harris said. “It was a quiet game pretty much the whole game for us.”

Wheeler’s dominance had some questioning if what has arguably been one of the best teams in Braves history might be heading toward an embarrassing and abbreviated end to their season. This 104-win Atlanta team set an AL/NL record with a .501 slugging percentage, and it matched an MLB record with 307 homers.

Yet the Braves didn’t record an extra-base hit until d'Arnaud drilled Wheeler's slider over the left-field wall with one out in the seventh. The two-run drive was the veteran’s 10th career postseason homer. Johnny Bench and Jorge Posada, who each hit 11, are the only catchers with more.

d’Arnaud was behind the plate because he works well with Fried. But he also entered this game 8-for-21 with a homer and a double against Wheeler, his former batterymate during their days with the Mets.

Acuña, Riley, Olson, Marcell Ozuna and Ozzie Albies all warranted different levels of attention on MVP ballots this year. But the final four innings of this latest comeback again proved the spark of this great lineup was the only guy to have a 40-homer, 70-steal season.

“Ronnie [Acuña] got the crowd back in it. I think that was the biggest thing,” d’Arnaud said. “Got the crowd back in it and got momentum back on our side.”

Acuña drew a two-out walk against Wheeler in the sixth and then took off sprinting when Albies ended a no-hit bid with a sharp single to right field. Acuña raced toward third, rounded the bag and then scrambled to the plate when Trea Turner was unable to handle Castellanos’ throw to the infield.  

“He didn't put his head down,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He stayed aware, watched the ball and got a great jump when they bobbled a little bit.”

The resulting roar of the crowd changed the atmosphere, and the trajectory of this series changed with this one play. d’Arnaud further stirred the crowd in the seventh, and Riley brought the house down in the eighth with the game-winning homer. 

“You knew it was a matter of time,” Fried said. “We’ve been too good and too dangerous to not just break out of it. Did we ever?”