Riley plays G1 hero with HR, walk-off knock

'You dream of that as a little kid,' Braves third baseman says after win over LA

October 17th, 2021

ATLANTA -- Six months after having to prove he deserved to be the Braves’ third baseman, is being serenaded by “MVP” chants and creating lasting postseason memories.

Riley extended this year’s power barrage with his latest home run and then delivered the game-ending single that gave the Braves a 3-2 win over the Dodgers in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series on Saturday night at Truist Park.

“You dream of that as a little kid,” Riley said of the walk-off single he lined to left field against right-handed reliever Blake Treinen.

At 24 years and 197 days old, Riley became the youngest player to produce any of the 10 postseason walk-off hits in Braves history. The young slugger had also hit the decisive go-ahead home run off Treinen in the ninth inning of the Braves' Game 1 win over the Dodgers in the 2020 NLCS.

“He’s a good hitter and a clutch hitter,” Dodgers MVP candidate Trea Turner said. “Hats off to him. He’s gotten to the point where he’s a really good player. There’s a reason why the fans were chanting ‘MVP’ for him.”

One year after squandering a 3-1 advantage in the best-of-seven NLCS in Arlington, the Braves have once again gained an early series lead against the now-defending World Series champion Dodgers. This has proven beneficial in the past: In best-of-seven postseason series with the current 2-3-2 format, teams winning Game 1 at home have gone on to win the series 62 of 94 times (66%). This excludes 2020, when the LCS and World Series were played at neutral sites.

When the Braves got to within a game of the World Series last year, they leaned heavily on an offense that featured eventual NL MVP Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuña Jr. and Marcell Ozuna at the top of the lineup. Riley was a contributor, but he was nothing like the imposing force he was when he hit .303 with 33 homers and a .898 OPS this season.

“You just see the confidence,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “At the plate, he’s handling velocity and spin. He can beat the shift, so he can control the barrel. He’s just a really good hitter.”

With Riley again rising to the occasion, the Braves won on a night when Freeman struck out in each of his four plate appearances. Eight Dodgers pitchers combined to record 14 strikeouts and issue no walks.

But Riley did just enough to back the determined effort of Max Fried, who allowed two runs over six innings, despite struggling with his command.

“It's not about one guy here, obviously, and I think that's a really good thing,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said.

During a year in which the Braves lost both Ozuna and Acuña, they strengthened their lineup via multiple trades and watched both Freeman and Riley build strong MVP resumes.

Freeman delivered the big homer to decide the NL Division Series against the Brewers in Game 4 on Tuesday and Riley got the NLCS started in auspicious fashion.

“I think that kid has definitely taken a step forward,” Snitker said of Riley.

Riley stirred the home crowd in the bottom of the fourth when he hit a two-out, game-tying homer off Tony Gonsolin. He stands now with Andruw Jones (7), Chipper Jones (4), Hank Aaron (3), Ryan Klesko (3), Acuña (3) and Ozzie Albies (3) as the only Braves who have hit three or more postseason homers at 24 or younger.

Albies fueled the decisive ninth inning when he singled off Treinen and then stole second base. Riley looked at a first-pitch slider and then lined a 0-1 slider to left field.

“He's the big boss,” Albies said. “Once I got on, I told them I’m going [to steal] so I can be in scoring position for Riley. He's been hot. He's going to do the job. No doubt.”

When Riley had a .456 OPS through his first 15 games of the season, fans were doubting his ability to be a productive big leaguer. But he proved to be one of the game’s best hitters over the season’s final five months and is now creating more lifelong October memories.

“That was my first [walk-off hit] ever,” Riley said. “I came up in quite a few situations earlier in the season and wasn't able to get it done. But to get it done tonight was awesome.”