Braves vs. Dodgers score: Atlanta takes NLCS Game 1 on Austin Riley's walk-off single

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The National League Championship Series opened with a bang Saturday night at Truist Park. The Atlanta Braves outlasted the Los Angeles Dodgers and secured the Game 1 win thanks to Austin Riley's walk-off single in the ninth inning (ATL 3, LAD  2). Atlanta leads the best-of-seven series, 1-0. 

The unconventional pitchers' duel featured 12 pitchers total (eight Dodgers and four Braves), and things didn't unravel until the ninth inning, when Ozzie Albies blooped a single to center, stole second base, then scored the game-winning run on Riley's hit down the left-field line. It was Riley's first career walk-off RBI. He went deep earlier in the game as well.

Here are five takeaways from Game 1.

1. Riley was the hero

Austin Riley
ATL • 3B • 27
2021 regular season
BA.303
R91
HR33
RBI107
SB0
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Austin Riley is going to get MVP votes this season and deservedly so. The 24-year-old authored a .303/.367/.531 batting line with 33 home runs in his first full 162-game season, and was even better in the second half, hitting .333/.377/.599 after Ronald Acuña Jr. went down with his knee injury.

Riley played the hero twice in Game 1. First, he tied the game at 2-2 with a fourth-inning solo home run against Tony Gonsolin. Then in the ninth he yanked a base hit to left field to score Ozzie Albies to win the game. It goes into the history books as a single but it was truly a double down the line. Either way, it gave Atlanta the win.

Through five postseason games Riley is 7 for 19 (.368) with two home runs and three runs driven in. Reigning NL MVP Freddie Freeman had an awful night in Game 1 (0 for 4 with four strikeouts and looked bad in each of them), but Riley picked him up. He had an incredible regular season and has carried it over into October.

2. The bullpen game worked well enough

Corey Knebel
LAD • RP • 46
2021 regular season
ERA2.45
WHIP.97
IP25.2
BB9
K30
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Coming into the season the Dodgers appeared to have seven starters for five rotation spots. Fast forward to the NLCS, and they're down to three legitimate starting pitchers. Things can -- and will -- change so much during the 162-game season. The roster you have on Opening Day is rarely the roster you take into the postseason.

Los Angeles employed bullpen games regularly this year and again used one in NLCS Game 1 because Max Scherzer needed an extra day to rest following his relief appearance in NLDS Game 5 on Thursday. Prior to Game 1, Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts was asked whether the team's experience with bullpen games would be an advantage. His response: 

"I think certainly, certainly, and I think that we're starting to understand that when you're talking about pitching and run prevention, I think that getting guys in the right spots and lanes and, gives them a good chance to prevent, to get outs. ... I think that where most relievers need their routine and they get down to the pen at a certain point in the game, where our guys are used to that more so because of the circumstances that we had this year. So I think, I do think that as far as kind of that part of it, it's certainly an advantage or benefit."

The bullpen game worked well enough for the Dodgers. Eight relievers combined to hold the Braves to three runs on six hits and no walks in 8 1/3 innings in Game 1. They struck out 14, including two in an inning five times. Five players in Atlanta's lineup struck out at least twice (though one was starting pitcher Max Fried). 

Furthermore, no Dodgers pitcher recorded more than five outs or threw more than 28 pitches (Gonsolin was the "long" man, so to speak), and seven of the eight pitchers threw no more than 16 pitches. No one was pushed to the point where they won't be available in Game 2. The Dodgers lost Game 1, but not because of their pitching. The bullpen was good. The offense was not.

3. Fried survived two-strike problems

Max Fried
ATL • SP • 54
NLCS Game 1 vs. Dodgers
IP6
H8
R2
ER2
BB0
K5
HR1
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Braves lefty Max Fried has been one of the best pitchers in baseball over the last two months or so. He pitched to a 1.46 ERA and held opponents to a .183/.213/.279 batting line in his final 11 regular season starts, then struck out nine in six shutout innings against the Brewers in his NLDS start. Fried is blossoming into a bona-fide ace.

During the regular season Fried held opponents to a .160/.226/.243 line in two-strike counts, which was comfortably better than the .167/.243/.272 league average. In NLCS Game 1 though, the Dodgers got to Fried for two runs on eight hits in six innings, and six of the eight hits came in two-strike counts. Will Smith's solo homer came in an 0-2 count.

The six two-strike hits tie Fried's season high. To be sure, he pitched well in Game 1. This is more of an acknowledgment of the Dodgers offense, which did excellent work battling a tough pitcher, and not giving in when faced with a two-strike count. Fried bent but did not break Saturday.

4. Taylor made a brutal base-running mistake

Chris Taylor
LAD • CF • 3
2021 regular season
BA.254
R92
HR20
RBI73
SB13
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It felt like the Braves were destined to win Game 1 as soon as Chris Taylor made a horrible base-running mistake to end the top of the ninth inning. With the score tied, 2-2, Taylor got hung up between second and third when he tried to go first-to-third on Cody Bellinger's single, and was tagged out for the final out of the inning. Here's the play:

Joc Pederson's throw from right field went to second base, so had Taylor kept running, he would have been safe at third, giving Los Angeles runners at the corners with Mookie Betts at the plate. Maybe Betts strikes out or flies out and the inning ends without the Dodgers scoring a run, but gosh, taking the bat out of Mookie's hands stings. Costly mistake by Taylor on the bases. Just brutal.

5. The Braves have the edge

Historically, the team that wins Game 1 of a best-of-seven has gone on to win the series 64 percent of the time. That said, when these two teams met in last year's NLCS, the Braves won Game 1 but ultimately lost the series in seven games. History is on Atlanta's side but nothing is guaranteed. Game 2 is Sunday at Truist Park.

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@MLB via Twitter
October 17, 2021, 3:49 AM
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@Braves via Twitter
October 17, 2021, 3:48 AM
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@Braves via Twitter
October 17, 2021, 3:45 AM
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October 17, 2021, 3:19 AM
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Braves win on a walk-off hit from Austin Riley. Game 2 is tomorrow night. Same teams, same park.

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@Dodgers via Twitter
October 17, 2021, 3:13 AM
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Atlanta can now take a 1-0 series lead with a run.

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Taylor slipped after having second thoughts on going first to third. The Braves were able to apply a tag to end the top half of the inning.

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Smith hasn't thrown a pitch in the zone.

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Damn, no chance for Will Smith vs. Will Smith this inning (unless something crazy happens).

October 17, 2021, 2:53 AM
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Still 2-2 in the eighth.

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the Dodgers have nine hits compared to just four from the Braves, but where it matters it says 2-2 here going into the bottom of the seventh 

October 17, 2021, 2:29 AM
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