Yonder Alonso drives in three runs as the Mariners squeak past Atlanta 6-5.
ATLANTA — On an ugly night when they made four errors and made multiple mistakes to give away a winnable game, the Mariners got the one key play needed to close out a 6-5 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Monday night.
Up a run in the ninth, closer Edwin Diaz gave up a leadoff single to Ender Inciarte, who represented the tying run and is a known base-stealing threat. Trouble beckoned with the heart of the Braves order looming.
But with one out, Mike Zunino, who had committed one of those errors in the game, was able to cut down Inciarte on a stolen-base attempt with a pinpoint throw to second. With the bases cleared, Diaz then coaxed an easy groundball to first base off the bat of the always-dangerous Freddie Freeman to end the game and secure his 28th save of the season.
“Any time your catcher throws out a guy at second in the ninth inning, it doesn’t get any better than that” said manager Scott Servais, himself a former a catcher.
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Zunino knew Inciarte was looking to get into scoring position via the steal, having nabbed 17 bags on the season.
“We know that he’s one of their better runners,” said Zunino, who threw out two of three attempted base stealers. “Eddy did a good job throwing a couple of pickoffs over there to keep him close.”
Diaz also did something that he hasn’t done enough this season — vary his time before delivering the ball. Often, he gets so locked in on the batter, that baserunners can time up his repetitive delivery. But this time, he held the ball longer on different occasions, not allowing Inciarte to time him up. It’s something pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre has stressed with the younger relievers.
“He held the ball and it made Inciarte not get as great of a jump as he normally does, just a huge, huge play,” Servais said. “Those are the little things in the game that don’t often show up. But they showed up tonight.”
The Mariners improved to 64-62. But Servais was frustrated by the mistakes in the field. Besides the four errors, Ben Gamel misplayed a ball in right field and Leonys Martin threw to the wrong base.
“We did not play a very good game defensively,” Servais said. “It was sloppy.”
Things like the heat, the new and unfamiliar surroundings of SunTrust Park or even the solar eclipse were not excuses.
“It’s a little bit of lack of concentration,” he said. “We talk often about the things you can and can’t control and controlling the controllable. You can control your baserunning and you can control your defense. And tonight we didn’t catch the ball as well as we can. Lucky we were able to get away with a win.”
Seattle starter Andrew Albers was with credited with five innings pitched, giving up four runs (three earned) on six hits with two walks and three strikeouts. That was good enough to get the win and improve to 2-0 since joining the team.
“I thought he threw the ball really well,” Servais said. “He did it all.”
Indeed, Albers helped himself in the top of the second, notching his first big-league hit in his first big league at-bat — a bases-loaded ground ball off the bare hand of Braves starter Mike Foltynewicz for a brief 1-0 lead. He also added two sacrifice bunts that helped score runs.
“It’s pretty neat,” he said. “I’m not a very good hitter. I got pretty lucky there. I was just happy to put the ball in play and it worked out. It helped I had some at-bats down Triple A this year and that was the first time I’d hit in 12 years. It was starting to feel that I could at least be competitive at the plate.”
Even with the errors, the Mariners would eventually take a 6-2 lead and seem poised for a non-descript, drama-free win. Yonder Alonso provided a good chunk of the production, showing why the Mariners acquired him from the A’s a few weeks ago. The veteran first baseman had a big night, going 3 for 5 with two doubles and three runs batted in. His two-out RBI double in the sixth proved to be the difference. Over his last eight games, Alonso is batting .433 (13 for 30) with three doubles, a homer and eight RBI.
“I’m working,” Alonso said. “I’m getting to the field early and making sure I’m prepared. I’m just competing and trying to get on base.”
But the season-long struggle to work a clean sixth inning turned the game into stomach-churning grind.
After retiring the previous seven batters, Albers started the sixth but never recorded an out. A catcher’s interference call on Zunino on a swing by Matt Kemp put the leadoff runner on base. Nick Markakis followed with a soft single to right to end Albers’ outing.
His replacement, Emilio Pagan, fared no better. After getting Kurt Suzuki to pop out, Pagan gave up a two-run triple to Ozzie Albers and a deep sac fly to Dansby Swanson. The Mariners’ four-run lead had dwindled to one run. Servais went to lefty Marc Rzepczynski earlier than usual. Seattle got a break to get out of the inning with a lead. The ultra speedy Lane Adams tried to score from second on a ground ball that Robinson Cano bobbled. But Cano fired home and got him even with a MLB replay review that made the out call on the field seem somewhat questionable.
Rzepczynski and Nick Vincent combined to work the seventh and eighth to get to Diaz.