Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

MLB News

Tying HR, winning hit … What can't Riley do?

@goodforball
May 23, 2019

SAN FRANCISCO -- As Thursday’s Braves-Giants game settled into extra-inning torpor, it became clear that somebody or something dynamic had to take over to finish it off. This was a job for Austin Riley, who has quickly become one of the most compelling rookies in the Major Leagues. Facing hard-throwing

SAN FRANCISCO -- As Thursday’s Braves-Giants game settled into extra-inning torpor, it became clear that somebody or something dynamic had to take over to finish it off.

This was a job for Austin Riley, who has quickly become one of the most compelling rookies in the Major Leagues.

Facing hard-throwing Giants reliever Reyes Moronta, Riley sliced an opposite-field single to right on an 0-2 pitch with two outs in the 13th inning. That scored Dansby Swanson and lifted Atlanta to a 5-4 triumph, enabling the Braves to capture the series, three games to one.

Box score

Besides delivering his first game-winning hit as a Major Leaguer, the 22-year-old Riley also allowed the Braves to survive into extra innings. With four outs separating Atlanta from a 4-2 loss, Riley guided a Tony Watson pitch into the left-center-field stands for a two-run homer. That drive was just one of several highlights in Riley’s brief yet burgeoning career.

Riley became the first Braves player in the last 111 years and the ninth Major Leaguer in history to hit five homers in the first nine games of his career. He’s also the second player age 22 or younger to do that in Major League history, joining Carlos Delgado (1993-94).

Riley’s ridiculous statistical totals include five homers, eight runs scored and 12 RBIs in nine games. This series provided quite a showcase for the Memphis, Tenn., native. On Monday, he hit a two-run homer in the sixth inning that gave Atlanta its ultimate standup run in a 4-1 victory. On Tuesday he was relatively quiet, singling once in four at-bats. On Wednesday he belted a three-run homer that sealed the outcome. With Thursday’s performance, Riley hit .352 (6-for-17) in the series with eight RBIs and four runs scored.

In other words, though Riley is following a road paved by great Braves sluggers such as Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Dale Murphy and Chipper Jones, he already has forged his own path.

Purchased from Triple-A Gwinnett by the Braves on May 15, he called it an “honor” to be mentioned alongside “guys who have come through the Braves legacy.” He admitted that he probably won’t immediately grasp the scope and significance of his accomplishments.

“It’s cool to be part of a great franchise and the guys who have come through here,” Riley said. “I think it’s something I’ll look back on in the next 10 or 15 years and appreciate.”

Following Riley’s example, the Braves amassed eight home runs during this series, an unusually high number for Oracle Park.

“I’ve heard of the wind that kind of swirls and floats in,” he said. “I think the winds were light and we squared some balls up.”

Moreover, the Braves have mostly capitalized on Riley’s success. They’ve won 10 of their last 13 games, galvanized also by center fielder Ronald Acuna Jr.’s elevation to the leadoff spot and the pitching staff’s consistency.

“That’s the goal -- winning championships,” Riley said.

Chris Haft has covered the Major Leagues since 1991 and has worked for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter at @goodforball.