June 21, 2024

Two of the best teams in baseball convened at Chavez Ravine on Friday night, the National League West-leading Dodgers and NL East-leading Atlanta Braves opening a three-game series that Dodgers manager Dave Roberts promised would be “a good matchup, exciting for our fans and players.”

The clubs did not disappoint, entertaining a crowd of 50,859 with some superb starting pitching, three home runs, clutch hits, a great defensive play, a key pickoff and a dramatic walk-off hit in a game that was so good it could not be contained to nine innings.

Dodgers rookie outfielder Andy Pages delivered the decisive blow in the bottom of the 11th inning, fouling off two full-count pitches from reliever Jesse Chavez before blooping a one-out RBI single to shallow right-center field for a 4-3 Dodgers victory.

With automatic runner Will Smith at second, Max Muncy was intentionally walked to open the 11th. Teoscar Hernández grounded into a fielder’s choice, putting runners on first and third with one out for Pages, who capped a four-hit night with his game-winner, sparking a wild celebration with his teammates in the infield.

Reliever Michael Grove gave the Dodgers a chance to win with a scoreless top of the 11th in which he retired leadoff man Ronald Acuña Jr. on a popup to shortstop, Ozzie Albies on a grounder to second and Austin Riley on a grounder to third.

The teams traded runs in the 10th inning, Braves pinch-runner Luke Williams scoring on Orlando Arcia’s sacrifice fly to deep left field to give Atlanta a 3-2 lead in the top half of inning and Shohei Ohtani poking a one-out RBI single off Braves closer Raisel Iglesias to tie the score 3-3 in the bottom of the 10th.

Rookie right-hander Gavin Stone positioned himself and the Dodgers for a win with six stout innings in which he gave up one earned run and five hits, striking out six, walking one and leaning heavily on an 87-mph changeup that induced nine swinging strikes. He departed with a 2-1 lead.

Braves starter Charlie Morton, the seemingly ageless 40-year-old right-hander, was almost as good as Stone, giving up two earned runs and five hits in six innings, striking out five and walking two.

Riley pulverized a 94-mph Stone fastball in the top of the first, sending a 449-foot homer to left-center field for a 1-0 lead that would have been 2-0 had Stone not caught Acuña leaning off second base and picked off the 2023 NL most valuable player before Riley’s bomb.

The Dodgers threatened in the bottom of the second when Pages, who extended his hitting streak to nine games, reached on a fielder’s-choice grounder and James Outman was hit by a 95-mph Morton fastball to put two on with two outs.

Teoscar Hernández gets a face full of sunflower seeds while celebrating with teammates after hitting a solo home run.

Teoscar Hernández gets a face full of sunflower seeds while celebrating with teammates after hitting a solo home run against the Braves in the fourth inning Friday.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

No. 9 hitter Gavin Lux stroked a single to left field, and Pages, who has decent speed, was waved home by third base coach Dino Ebel. Atlanta left fielder Jarred Kelenic charged the ball, fielded it cleanly and fired a 95-mph throw — accurate and on the fly — to catcher Travis d’Arnaud, who applied the tag on Pages to end the inning.

The Dodgers tied the score 1-1 in the third when Ohtani walked, stole second and scored on Smith’s two-out RBI single to left-center, giving the Dodgers catcher 25 RBIs on the season and tying him with Mookie Betts for the team lead.

Teoscar Hernández put the Dodgers in front in the fourth inning when he capped an eight-pitch at-bat by driving an up-and-away 95-mph fastball from Morton over the right-center field wall for a solo homer, his seventh of the season, and a 2-1 lead.

Hernández was one of the team’s hottest hitters in the first two weeks of the season, batting .300 with four homers and 14 RBIs in his first 10 games, but he entered Friday with a .233 average (20 for 86), two homers, eight RBIs and 29 strikeouts in his previous 23 games.

Reliever Joe Kelly pitched a scoreless seventh for the Dodgers, but Acuña clobbered a full-count, up-and-away fastball from reliever Daniel Hudson over the left-field wall for a solo homer that tied the score 2-2 in the top of the eighth.

It was only the second homer and eighth RBI of the season for Acuña, who hit .337 with a 1.012 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 41 homers, 106 RBIs and 73 stolen bases during his MVP season in 2023. But his slow start didn’t make Acuña any less dangerous in the eyes of the Dodgers.

“He’s one of the best players in baseball,” Roberts said. “He can beat you with the glove, the arm, certainly the foot speed, the bat, there’s slugging there. He’s just dangerous. … Yeah, seeing him [seven] times in the regular season is plenty.”

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