NLCS Dodgers Braves Baseball

Atlanta Braves' Austin Riley celebrates after hitting the game winning RBI single to score Atlanta Braves' Ozzie Albies in the ninth inning in Game 1 of baseball's National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Atlanta. The Braves defeated the Dodgers 3-2 to take game 1.(AP Photo/John Bazemore)

With teammate Ozzie Albies in scoring position in the bottom of the ninth inning Saturday night, Austin Riley said he looked over at Braves' third base coach Ron Washington for instructions on how to win Game 1 of the NLCS.

"I looked over at Wash and he said, 'Base hit, that's all you need.'"

Sounds simple enough, even against tough right-handed reliever Blake Treinen of the Dodgers. Still, it wasn't the kind of advice fans are used to hearing from Washington, going by the scene from "Moneyball," when he and the GM tried to level with a player about how hard it would be for him to learn to play a new position.

"It's incredibly hard," Washington's character famously said.

Treinen is usually incredibly hard to hit — he had a 1.99 ERA in the regular season — but he caught too much of the plate and Riley connected for a hard hit to the left-field corner. Albies, who had stolen second base after a one-out bloop single, came around to score easily. 

The Braves probably had to win and they did, 3-2. The series continues Sunday night with Game 2, also at Truist Park in suburban Atlanta.

The Braves likely came in with confidence, having taken the Dodgers to seven games in the NLCS a year ago, and having played them close in the regular season. Home-field advantage didn't hurt either. They also were in position to exploit a Dodgers weakness, based on injuries to Clayton Kershaw and Max Muncy, and the grind the Dodgers endured against the Giants in the previous round.

Dodgers starting pitchers were a little short of stamina coming in after a tough series against their arch-rivals in the NLDS, where Max Scherzer had to close out Game 5. The Dodgers saved Scherzer for Game 2 and instead went with a bullpen game, leading with Corey Knebel and ending with Treinen. Eight pitchers in all, with only Tony Gonsolin going as much as 1 2/3 innings. The strategy more or less worked, with the Braves collecting just six hits. And any team usually would be happy with allowing just three runs collectively, as the Dodgers did.

But Riley had a huge game, also hitting a solo home run, and left-hander Max Fried allowed just two runs and eight hits to go with five strikeouts over six innings. Relievers Tyler Matzek, Luke Jackson and Will Smith — like they had done in the NLDS against the Brewers — combined for three innings of two-hit ball. Mookie Betts went 0-for-4 and Braves pitchers combined for 14 strikeouts. The Braves still had to play a mostly perfect game to win, and they came close.

The Dodgers did not play perfectly. Knebel allowed the Braves to score a run on a wild pitch in the first, and one of their best players made a mistake on the bases that potentially cost themselves the tie-breaking in the ninth inning. 

Chris Taylor got caught between second and third base after Cody Bellinger blooped a single to right with two outs. Taylor put on the brakes and slipped as Joc Pederson bounced a throwback into the infield, which Dansby Swanson picked nicely before starting a rundown.

Riley, who made the final throw to Swanson, who applied the tag for the third out, said he thought Taylor should have kept going to third. 

Conversely, the Braves put themselves in position to win by sound base running, with Albies getting a huge jump on Treinen and taking second. Catcher Will Smith had no chance.

"I'm pretty sure they knew I was going," said Albies, who had 20 stolen bases during the regular season.

The Dodgers could have walked Riley with first-base open and lefty-hitting Pederson on deck to set up the double play, but it's fair to have Treinen go after Riley there. Pederson isn't having the season Riley is, but he does have a pair of home runs this postseason, plus a long history of doing damage in the playoffs. (In fact, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said they would have walked Pederson if Treinen had gotten Riley out.)

No matter, up came Riley, who had a breakout year for the Braves and is continuing to mash, hitting .368/.400/.684 in the postseason. Funny enough, Riley took Treinen deep for a go-ahead homer in the playoffs a year ago. Fried started that game for the Braves, too. If it wasn't déjà vü for the Dodgers, it was a first cousin.

And Game 1 of the NLCS was a doozy.

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