Austin Riley’s first playoff homer lifts Braves over Dodgers

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Pitcher Clayton Kershaw is hoped to be a driving force for the Dodgers in getting past Atlanta and returning to the World Series, but his past playoff performances have been disappointing. AFP

Austin Riley belted a tie-breaking homer to complement a strong outing by the bullpen as the Atlanta Braves erupted for four runs in the ninth to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-1 in the opening game of the NL Championship Series on Monday.

Riley slammed a home run to centre field to shatter the 1-1 tie and spark a four-run rally in the final inning of a showdown between the two best teams in the National League to see who goes to the World Series.

Riley described it as the biggest home run of his career.

“I was able to hit a home run my opening day, but this one tops it by far,” he said. “I just stepped out [of the batter box], took a deep breath, and I told myself: ‘Stay inside this baseball as much as you can.’ I put a pretty good swing on it.”

It was also a battle of teams with perfect 5-0 postseason records. Atlanta relied on their stellar pitching staff while getting home runs from Freddie Freeman in the first inning and then from Riley and Ozzie Albies in the game-deciding ninth.

Riley’s was his first career postseason home run for the Braves after he hit eight during the regular season. Looking at a 1-2 sinker ball from Dodger pitcher Blake Treinen, Riley knocked it deep to the centre field bleachers.

Atlanta extended their lead to 3-1 on a Ronald Acuna double and then a single by Marcell Ozuna that sent Treinen to the showers. Albies then came up and hit a two-run homer for his first of the playoffs.

Braves starter Max Fried surrendered just one run on four hits over six innings with nine strikeouts. Left-hander Will Smith pitched a scoreless inning to pick up the victory.

Dodgers starter Walker Buehler gave up one run on three hits over five-plus innings with five walks and seven strikeouts.

‘Dangerous play’

In the AL Championship Series, Manny Margot clubbed a three-run homer and made a heart-stopping catch for a clutch out in the second inning as the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Houston Astros 4-2 to take a 2-0 series lead.

The 26-year-old Dominican blasted a 123m homer to center field in the first inning as the Rays jumped out to a 3-0 lead, tacked on another run in the seventh and then held on in the ninth when the Astros gave them a scare by loading the bases twice.

Catcher Mike Zunino also slammed a towering 138m homer in the seventh for the Rays, who are now two wins away from reaching the World Series for the second time in the club’s 23-season history.

“Manny really turned it on with the home run,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “We didn’t see many in the regular season, but I think he has three really huge home runs for us in the postseason.”

Game three in the best-of-seven ALCS is scheduled for Tuesday. The Rays also won game one 2-1 at Petco Park in San Diego.

Margot made a spectacular catch in the second inning for a key out. He chased down a fly ball in the right field, caught the ball and then crashed over the cement wall, landing upside down on the other side.

“In all the time I played here, I never played right field,” said former San Diego Padre Margot, who always played centre field at Petco. “I knew it was going to be a dangerous play, but I had to make the play and I had to make the catch.”

When asked if he was okay, Margot said, “I got a little scratch on my leg.”

Rays starting pitcher Charlie Morton pitched five innings, allowing five hits and striking out five.

Morton had help as the Rays’ bullpen produced another exceptional effort, allowing just two runs and striking out three.

In the top of the second, Houston had runners on second and third after a double by Martin Maldonado.

Up next, George Springer slapped a fly ball down the right field line into foul territory. A charging Margot snagged the ball just before hitting the wall. He tumbled over the wall face-first to the concrete below. Margot immediately jumped up, holding his glove high in the air to signal he made the catch.