Two teams that hadn’t lost yet this postseason kept going Monday night, playing with a determination to keep the streak alive.
In the Braves’ stacked lineup, even the No. 9 hitter is dangerous. Cue Austin Riley, the second-year utilityman who delivered his biggest career hit, smashing a no-doubt homer in the ninth inning at spacious Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas, for the go-ahead run before the Braves added on for a 5-1 victory over the Dodgers in Game 1 of the NLCS.
“I didn’t feel my legs when I was running around the bases, so it was a good feeling,” said Riley, after noting he was left off the Braves’ postseason roster last year.
The Dodgers had won nine consecutive games overall, including five straight to begin the postseason. Now, the longest winning streak belongs to the Braves, with six straight victories this postseason as they attempt to reach the World Series for the first time since 1999.
With it 1-1 in the ninth, Riley homered leading off against Blake Treinen, who had not been scored upon in his four previous appearances this postseason. The Braves weren’t finished. Marcell Ozuna followed Ronald Acuna Jr.’s double with an RBI single before Ozzie Albies went deep against Jake McGee for the Braves’ third homer of the night.
“We’re like an NBA game — you don’t want to leave, because a lot of things don’t happen until the last third,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “They have been like that for a few years now.”
Adding to the atmosphere, the game was played in front of 10,700 fans — MLB’s first crowd in this pandemic-shortened season.
“That was fun,” Freddie Freeman said. “It brings a whole different energy when the fans are in the stands. We could hear the Braves fans, and that was awesome. It really felt like 50,000 fans because we haven’t had any all year.”
Max Fried labored early, throwing 28 pitches in the first inning. He needed another 17 pitches to get through the second, but then settled into a groove that allowed him to survive six innings.
“I think it was just a little bit of adrenaline,” Fried said, referring to his early pitch-count trouble. “In front of the fans, you could feel the energy. It was, having fans in the ballpark and hearing screams or cheers after strikes and balls on both sides, it definitely got my adrenaline up in those first couple of innings, I felt like maybe I was being a little too nitpicky around the zone.”
Overall, the left-hander allowed one run on four hits with nine strikeouts and two walks. Fried had struggled in his previous start, allowing four earned runs over four innings against the Marlins in Game 1 of the NLDS.
Walker Buehler lasted into the sixth for the Dodgers without recording an out, departing after Travis d’Aranud and Albies singled in succession to begin the inning. Brusdar Graterol entered and recorded three quick outs to keep it 1-1.
The right-hander Buehler allowed three hits and five walks with seven strikeouts over the five-plus innings, departing at 100 pitches. It followed a four-inning performance against the Padres last week, in which Buehler allowed one earned run.
Kiké Hernandez jumped on a hanging curveball from Fried leading off the fifth and launched a homer to left field that tied it 1-1. The blast was the seventh of the utilityman’s postseason career, which included a three-homer barrage against the Cubs in the Dodgers’ NLCS clincher in 2018.
Freeman homered against Buehler in the first inning for the game’s first run. Freeman, a strong National League MVP candidate, posted an 1.102 OPS during the regular season. The homer was the third in the postseason of Freeman’s career and his first this year.
The Braves lineup sustained a hit in the second inning, when Adam Duvall grimaced in pain on a swing. Duvall departed the game with a strained left oblique — replaced during his at-bat by Cristian Pache — and Snitker indicated he could be lost for the season. The veteran Duvall hit 16 homers for the Braves during the regular season.
“I don’t expect the outcome to be good,” Snitker said. “[Duvall] popped that thing pretty good. I hate it for him and the year he’s had and the work he puts into it.”