At Globe Life Field on Monday Evening, the Braves certainly had plenty of chances to take control of the game to support another outstanding performance by Max Fried and the bullpen.
Unfortunately, there were far more struggles than success, despite a shaky performance from Dodgers Starter Walker Buehler.
However, they were simply saving the best for last.
The success certainly happened early for Atlanta. After a pop out by Ronald Acuna Jr., Freddie Freeman delivered a one out solo home run to right field to give the Braves a 1-0 lead. It had certainly been discussed, and for good reason, that if the Braves were going to get past the Dodgers, Freeman would need to perform like an MVP. He did, allowing Max Fried to enjoy a lead before even throwing a pitch.
However, Fried was ready to go regardless. After striking out Mookie Betts and Corey Seager, Fried walked Justin Turner and allowed a single to Max Muncy, but then retired Will Smith (Dodgers version) to strike out the side. In the top of the second, the Braves experienced a bit of unexpected trouble. During his at-bat, Adam Duvall injured himself and had to be removed from the game. To replace him, the Braves called upon top prospect Cristian Pache. Though the circumstances were certainly less than ideal, the long awaited opportunity to see Pache on the big stage was here. Though Pache walked and advanced to second on a wild pitch, neither Nick Markakis or Austin Riley could get him home.
Max Fried once again decided to live a little dangerously in the second inning. Cody Bellinger made contact for what looked like a hit, but Ozzie Albies made a great play to retire the Dodgers slugger. Though A.J. Pollock would single and Chris Taylor walked, Fried was able to escape trouble once again. Both teams went quietly in the third inning, In the top of the fourth inning, the Braves displayed some patience, as both Swanson and Pache reached on walks with one out. However, Buehler was able to get out of the inning by again retiring Markakis and Riley.
The Dodgers went down in order in the bottom of the fourth inning, and the Braves did the same in the top of the fifth inning. In the bottom of the fifth, the Dodgers finally found some success, Enrique Hernandez connected for a home run off Fried to tie the score at one. The depth of the Dodgers has been as big of an asset to their success in recent years as have their stars, and it shined through once again. Despite allowing a single to Seager, Fried ended the inning with the score tied.
In the top of the sixth inning, singles by Travis d’Arnaud and Albies ended the night for Buehler. Though he allowed only one run and produced seven strikeouts, Buehler was working from the stretch most of the night due to three hits and five walks. The Dodgers called upon another one of their impressive young arms, Brusdar Graterol, and despite the less than ideal situation he inherited, Graterol record three straight outs to once again keep the Braves off the scoreboard.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, Fried once again looked dominant, striking out Muncy and Smith before getting Bellinger to pop out. The Braves needed their ace to deliver a dominant performance, and he did just that. Over six innings, he allowed four hits and two walks, but only one run and produced nine strike outs. Of his 96 pitches, 64 went for strikes. It is clear that Fried is prepared to make the most of his opportunity no matter how big of stage he encounters.
Both the Dodgers and Braves went down in order in the seventh inning. In the top of the eighth, the Braves once again got to work. A double by Marcell Ozuna led off the inning, but d’Arnaud and Albies could not advance him. With two outs, Dustin May intentionally walked Dansby Swanson, then hit Pablo Sandoval, who pinch hit for Pache. After of game of strategy from managers Dave Roberts and Brian Snitker, Charlie Culberson entered the game with the bases loaded, but went down on strikes. The Braves squandered yet another opportunity.
But as the Braves have been known to due many times during the Snitker era, they were simply saving the best for last.
After Will Smith easily made his way through the Dodgers in the bottom of the eighth, the Braves offense took control of the game in the ninth. A solo home run by Riley, a double by Acuna Jr., a sacrifice fly by Freeman, and an RBI single by Ozuna made the score 3-1. After Ozuna’s single, Roberts may have made a rare mistake. Bringing in a left hander to face d’Arnaud, Jake McGee got him to pop out. However, perhaps the Braves best southpaw slugger, Ozzie Albies connected for a two run home run to make the score 5-1. Swanson would strike out to end the inning.
In the bottom of the ninth, Mark Melancon made sure there was no drama. Three quick ground outs ended the inning and Game 1. For the Braves, it was another sensational pitching performance, this time against perhaps the best offense in baseball. And both Fried and the bullpen rose to the occasion. However, Austin Riley delivered the deciding blow, and the Braves stars supported him to ensure the victory. Though the series is far from over, the Braves have clearly shown that they are here to succeed and advance.
They definitely succeeded in taking a big first step toward achieving that goal.