To break the humdrum — or the tension, take your pick — of trying to mount a postseason push while slogging though a 12-game trip spanning four cities, the Mariners booked an illusionist Monday for a pre-game show.
So what happens?
The Mariners then managed their own escape by overcoming a season-high four errors (it should have been five) and holding on for a 6-5 victory over the Braves at SunTrust Park in Atlanta.
It was no small irony that, in the end, it was a sparkling defensive play — a strong throw by catcher Mike Zunino — that helped seal the victory after the Mariners nearly squandered a four-run lead.
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"Any time you throw a guy out in the ninth inning," manager Scott Servais said, "as a catcher, it doesn’t get any better. We did not play a great game defensively with the errors and throwing to the wrong base. It was sloppy."
But still a victory.
The Braves quickly put the tying run on base in the ninth inning when speedy Ender Inciarte lined Edwin Diaz’s first pitch into center field for a single.
Diaz regrouped by retiring Brandon Phillips on a fly to right field before Inciarte took off for second on an 0-1 slider to Freddie Freeman.
"We know he’s one of their better runners," Zunino said. (Diaz) has worked really hard (at holding runners). He gave me a great chance there."
Zunino handled the off-speed pitch and threw a dart to shortstop Jean Segura, who applied the tag to Inciarte for the inning’s second out.
"I made sure the runner was close to base," Diaz said. "I made my pitch, and Zunino made a great throw."
The victory boosted the Mariners to 64-62 overall and to 3-1 on a 12-game trip through four cities. They began the night trailing Los Angeles and Minnesota by 1 1/2 games in the race for the American League’s final wild-card berth.
The Mariners made this tough on themselves after building a 6-2 lead behind Yonder Alonso, who had a two-run double in the fourth and an RBI double in the sixth. That second double produced what proved to be the winning run.
Lefty starter Andrew Albers, acquired Aug. 11 in a cash transaction from the Braves, carried that four-run lead into the sixth inning before a Zunino error — catcher’s interference — ignited a three-run Atlanta rally.
The Braves nearly tied the game when Lane Adams tried to score from second base with two outs when second baseman Robinson Cano bobbled Inciarte's slow ground single.
But Cano recovered in time to make a snap throw to the plate that barely beat Adams. So two huge defensive plays on an otherwise sloppy night.
Marc Rzepczynski and Nick Vincent worked around a missed catch by Alonso in the seventh inning before Vincent breezed through the eighth on six pitches. That got the game to Diaz who, with an assist from Zunino, gained his 28th save.
***Alonso zeroes in: Alonso is on a nice roll since shaking free from a 1-for-14 skid after joining the Mariners from Oakland in an Aug. 6 trade for outfielder Boog Powell.
Alonso is 13-for-30 in his last eight games and had a two-run, tie-breaking double in the fourth inning by jumping a 3-0 fastball from Foltynewicz. Alonso then scored on a Cano single by eluding a tag by catcher Kurt Suzuki.
"He was on everything all night," Servais said. "We need to continue to hit to win on the road, but we’ve got to play better defense. Our pitching stepped up and got us over the hump."
***An error of a different sort: The Mariners had four errors: Segura boxed Inciarte’s leadoff grounder in the first; right fielder Mitch Haniger fumbled a Freeman double in the first; Zunino’s interference in the sixth; and Alonso’s drop in the seventh.
Yes, that’s unacceptable. But those were physical errors. They happen.
What’s likely a greater irritation to Servais and his staff was the decision by center fielder Leonys Martin to throw home after fielding Inciarte’s two-out single in the second inning. Martin had no chance to throw out Ozzie Albies, who broke from second base on the swing. All Martin’s throw to the plate did was permit Inciarte to advance to second and into scoring position.
Albers pitched around the mistake by retiring Phillips on a grounder to short.
***Encouraging Albers: Albers had a second straight solid start and deserved a better line than four runs in five-plus innings. One run was unearned, and two runs scored after he left the game in the sixth inning.
Albers also had a RBI single and two successful sacrifice bunts in three plate appearances.
"Albers threw the ball really well," Servais said. "He gave us five innings and did it all. He got his first major-league hit and RBI. He got sac bunts down. We didn’t do a lot defensively to help him out."
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners