Austin Riley was called up on May 15th and greeted Braves fans with nine home runs in his first eighteen games. Seriously, he already has more home runs and RBIs than Josh Donaldson. But I like to think a rookie’s journey in the big leagues doesn’t start until his first slump, which Austin Riley finally experienced this past week or so. In the five games before last night, he was 2-22 with nine strikeouts. That’s usually the sign of a 22-year-old coming back to earth, but not Austin Riley.
Yesterday, the rookie broke the game open early with a towering triple that was inches from leaving the yard in the first inning, giving Mike Soroka a three-run cushion. Soroka isn’t one that usually needs three runs to win; he’s only allowed more than one earned run once in his ten starts this season. But last night, the Pirates bats were teeing off.
By the time Soroka exited after five innings, Pittsburgh had closed to within one (6-5). The Pirates would tie the game before an untimely rain delay in the seventh inning. After a couple of scoreless frames, Josh Bell (who has been unstoppable all season long) took Luke Jackson deep to dead center field. It felt like the Braves had let another slip away.
That is, until you realized who was due up the next inning – Austin Riley. Riley led off with the opportunity to tie the game, and I don’t think anybody in Braves Country was surprised to see what followed. The 6’3, 220-pound ball of muscle took Kyle Crick deep, forcing the city of Atlanta to go into work this morning a little crankier than usual. The Braves couldn’t push another run across that inning but were able to finish it in the 11th on an Ozzie Albies double that scored who? You guessed it – Austin Riley.
It hasn’t even been a month yet, and the kid is already embodying everything the Braves are about – grit and timely hitting. Not only is Riley mashing homers at will, but he’s coming through when the Braves need him most and usually against pitchers that are known for shutting the door.
Riley hit his first home run in his second career at-bat – clutch. Riley’s next home run was a two-run shot late in the game against the Brewers with the Braves trailing 2-1 – clutch. In the very next series versus the Giants, he hit three home runs – the last of which tied the game in the eighth inning. Oh, and then he hit a walk-off single in that same game to end it – clutch. Two series later against the Nationals, Riley hit a two-run homer in the eighth to cut a three-run lead to one – clutch. Last time the Braves were in Pittsburgh, he hit a three-run homer with the Braves trailing by two in the sixth inning – clutch. Then finally, with Atlanta down to their final at-bat last night, Riley hit a towering moonshot to straightaway center field off of Kyle Crick (who had yet to allow a single run on the road all season) – clutch.
After last night, the Braves already have 11 wins in their final at-bat. Since May of 2016, they now have 68 of them, according to 680 The Fan, which is easily the most in the majors. This is the mantra of the team. The reason all of us stay until the last pitch. They never give up, and Austin Riley has come in and picked up on things quickly. He is the embodiment of what these Braves are all about, and it’s a primary reason as to why this team is looking as dangerous as any in the National League.