It’s that point in the major league season when teams jockey for position like NASCAR drivers coming down the stretch.
A day after the defending World Series champion Atlanta Braves moved into first place in the National League East for the first time this season, they fell a half-game behind the New York Mets with a 3-1 defeat in Seattle.
The Braves (87-52) and host Mariners (78-61) will play the rubber match of their three-game series Sunday afternoon.
The Mariners remained a half-game behind Toronto but pulled within a game of Tampa Bay in the American League’s three-team wild-card chase.
Seattle, seeking to make the postseason for the first time since 2001, the longest drought in the four major North American sports, has a five-game lead on Baltimore for the last wild-card position.
“It’s kind of always in the back of your head,” Mariners rookie right-hander George Kirby said about pitching in October. “But the best thing to do is just take it one game at a time. That’s what I think we’re doing a really good job of — not looking to the future and (being) really focused on the game.”
Kirby allowed one unearned run in six-plus innings Saturday, and Sam Haggerty and Eugenio Suarez homered for Seattle.
“That’s a great team,” Haggerty said of the Braves.” They’re going to be deep in October, and for (Kirby) to do what he did to get us back into this series … I can’t speak enough about what George did.”
Even Braves manager Brian Snitker was impressed with Kirby, who was named the AL’s Rookie of the Month when he went 4-0 with a 2.15 ERA In August.
“The first time I’ve seen him and he works fast, gets the ball over the plate. He’s got a good feel for the secondary stuff. Impressive guy,” Snitker said. “I mean, he was just on the attack all night. There were a lot of strikes. I can see why he is successful.”
In Sunday’s series finale, the Braves will send right-hander Jake Odorizzi (5-5, 3.90 ERA) to the mound for his fourth start this season against the Mariners. Odorizzi is 1-1 with a 2.00 ERA in his previous three, all with Houston. He’s 4-6 with a 3.66 ERA in 16 career starts vs. Seattle.
The Mariners plan to counter with lefty Marco Gonzales (10-13, 3.98). Gonzales had a three-game winning streak snapped with a 3-2 loss to the Chicago White Sox on Monday despite allowing just three runs on four hits in seven innings. He is 0-1 with a 3.86 ERA in one start against Atlanta.
Braves outfielder Michael Harris II went 0-for-3 Saturday and had his 15-game hitting streak end.
“He’s a fun watch and he’s a lot of fun to be around,” Braves pitcher Charlie Morton said of Harris. “He’s generally pretty quiet, but he’s still an integral part of the clubhouse with his energy and his personality. Then the talent, it’s just ridiculous.”
–Field Level Media