Atlanta Braves new 'big boss' Austin Riley walks off Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 1 of NLCS

Austin Riley brings home Ozzie Albies in bottom of ninth for the Braves to win against the Dodgers. (0:51).
Austin Riley plays for the Braves in Game 1 (:51)

ATLANTA -- On Saturday, the Atlanta Braves won Game 1 in the National League Championship Series. They scored a clutch run to win with a game-winning catch at the bottom of the ninth. As the club danced in celebration, Truist Park's frenzied crowd chanted "MVP!" MVP! At the hero.

These two facts are all you need to know about Game 1. Who would you guess as the one who scored the winning hit? Freddie Freeman, right? The National League MVP in 2020, and the face of the Atlanta franchise.

The correct answer is Austin Riley. His emergence this season could just mean that Atlanta has a new MVP.

The Braves won the series opener 3-2 with a walk-off victory thanks to Riley's RBI single from the left field line by Blake Treinen, Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher. Riley tied the game at two with a home run in the fourth inning against Tony Gonsolin. This made Riley's nightlong journey a long one.

Riley stated, "You can only imagine that as a child."

Riley's twin heroics continued a breakout season. He joined a select group of Braves players who have both a game winning and game-tying hit in the same playoff contest: Hank Aaron (1969), Tony Gonzalez (1969), Michael Tucker (1998) and Brian Jordan (1999).

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts stated that Riley's improvements are really evident. "You can just see the confidence."

Freeman, who led the Braves to the NLCS on Tuesday with a eighth-inning run against the Milwaukee Brewers, was undoubtedly the worst player in his postseason career. Saturday's performance was arguably his worst. He struck out four times in a playoff match for the first time. His fourth strike came just minutes after Riley's heroics.

Riley's rise this season, and its continued performance during the playoffs have indicated something important for a club that is trying to get past the National League's giant in the Dodgers: This still maturing club is a lot bigger than Freddie Freeman these day.

Brian Snitker, Braves manager, said that he didn't know that the team won so many games that Freddie [struggled]," he added. It's a good thing. That just shows how these guys are maturing and growing, and that the moment isn’t too important for them.

Riley, 24, started this season with a career batting average of.232 and 26 homers in just 131 games during two major league campaigns. This season, those numbers exploded, as he hit .303 with 33 homers, 107 RBIs and 6.1 WAR, per baseball-reference.com. These numbers might explain why Riley's MVP chants were not misdirected by fans.

The winning hit by Riley was a tiebreaking run. Even though Ozzie Albies, Riley's teammate, raced home to win the game, the Braves poured out of their dugout to chase Riley. As part of the celebration light show, red fireworks shot out of the stadium's upper levels. A huge Braves flag was carried by the mascot around the field. This is the kind of celebration you would expect to see after a home team wins in a playoff match.

Albies stated, "He's the boss", while explaining his goal in successfully stealing second base in order to score for Riley. "Yeah. Once I got on, [I] said] I'm going to steal so I can score position for Riley. He's hot, I'm sure. He will do the job. No doubt."

Riley was the only reason Cobb County felt the way it did. It was a game that the Braves desperately needed to win.

Atlanta's young ace Max Fried was the first to enter the game. The Dodgers, at 106 wins, had an advantage on home field because they are a wild-card team. The Dodgers had to win five games against the 107-win San Francisco Giants in order to defeat them in the NLDS. In response to a tired pitching staff, they decided to play a bullpen game.

The gambit worked for most of Saturday's game. Fried was not as sharp as in recent weeks but he kept the Dodgers down to two runs over six innings. The Braves managed to score just one run against the parade of Dodgers relief pitchers, eight by the end.

Atlanta might have been unable to win Game 2 and would have entered the series with a loss. With home-field advantage now in Los Angeles, and Max Scherzer being sent to the plate by the Dodgers on Sunday, Truist Park may have felt some panic.

Snitker stated, "It doesn’t get any easier, that’s for darn certain." "I believe any, all of these wins here are going to be huge. These wins will all be difficult to come by.

There was no panic -- there was bedlam. Riley is the Braves' new MVP candidate.

Snitker stated, "You can see what he is doing, the at bats in the [divisions series], here." "I believe that kid has definitely taken the next step."

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