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Seattle Mariners

Mariners lose a frustrating final game of series to Braves

Seattle Mariners outfielder Mitch Haniger scampers after Austin Riley’s fourth-inning triple for the Atlanta Braves during Wednesday’s game at T-Mobile Park n Seattle.  (Getty Images)
By Ryan Divish Seattle Times

SEATTLE – The run of dominance was going to end at some point. One of the Mariners’ starting pitchers was going to wobble or struggle in an outing, because that’s how baseball works.

That it came against the Atlanta Braves – the team with the best record in baseball, who were also trying to avoid being swept in the three-game series at T-Mobile Park – wasn’t surprising.

When the Mariners beat the Braves in the first two games of the series, it was the first time this season Atlanta had lost back-to-back games. So losing three straight didn’t seem likely?

And, yet, the Mariners should find plenty of frustration and regret in Wednesday afternoon’s 5-2 loss to the Braves.

Yes, shutting down the Braves’ potent offense for the third straight game and was going to be a difficult task for rookie Emerson Hancock, and scoring the runs needed off Braves starter Chris Sale didn’t seem likely.

While the overall outcome might not have changed, the game certainly would’ve played out differently if not for a dropped fly ball from Mitch Haniger in the fourth inning that led to four unearned runs.

“It had nothing to do with the sun,” Haniger said. “I just dropped it.

“It’s on me. I have to make that play. I haven’t been very happy with how I’ve defended lately. It’s something I’m going to keep working on.”

He was blunt about it’s impact on the game.

“Unfortunately, my costly error led to a big inning,” Haniger said. “If you wipe that inning away, we probably end up winning that game.”

Instead, Seattle (17-14) wrapped up the homestand with a 4-2 record. The Mariners flew to Houston after Wednesday’s game and will have Thursday off before opening a three-game series with the Astros at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

“We had a good homestand and we’re playing good baseball,” M’s manager Scott Servais said. “We have a big road trip ahead of us. We head to Houston, and that’s another big challenge for us. I thought we did a better job against them last year down there. We’ve got to do it again.

“I know they’re off to a rough start, but they have picked it up here of late.”

Born and raised in Cairo, Georgia, a small town about four hours south of old Turner Field, where he would occasionally visit to cheer on the Braves, Hancock was facing the team of his youth with one of the most formidable lineups in MLB.

It was a fight from the beginning.

As he’s done all season, Hancock showed some composure to work around and out of unfavorable situations. In the first inning, he created his mess, walking Ozzie Albies and Austin Riley with one out.

Instead of panicking, he came back to strike out Matt Olson looking and Marcell Ozuna swinging to end the drama.

He came back with a 1-2-3 second inning, finding a little rhythm. The Braves broke through in the third inning … sort of.

With one out, Ronald Acuna Jr., who had been quiet in the first two games, scorched a line drive into left-center for a single. Hancock got Albies to pop out in foul territory, but the third out wouldn’t come easily or without a run. Riley followed with a crisp single to put runner on first and second. Hancock moved them to second with a throwing error on an ill-advised pickoff attempt at second base.

Hancock pitched around Matt Olson, walking him with first base open and loading the bases for Ozuna.

He couldn’t repeat his first-inning strikeout of the Braves’ DH despite getting up 0-2 on the first two pitches. Ozuna refused to chase anything out of the zone and fouling off one pitch that was close, eventually taking a walk to force the first run across.

The outing fell apart in the fourth when Haniger misplayed the high fly ball off the bat of Orlando Arcia in shallow right field. With three players converging on it, Haniger called everyone off only to have the ball hit off the heel of his glove and drop to the outfield grass.

Giving away an out to the bottom of the Braves order is less than ideal.

Hancock got Chadwick Tromp to ground out to third for the second out, but it brought the top of the order to the lineup.

After hitting a 112-mph line drive single in his previous at-bat off Hancock, Acuna pulled a ground ball through the left side of the infield for a run-scoring single.

But the Braves weren’t finished. After being stymied for the first two games of the series, they were looking for their hits and runs.

Austin Riley smoked a line drive to deep right field. Haniger retreated quickly and made a play on the ball, but he couldn’t quite grab it as he slammed into the wall. Both runners scored easily as Riley raced around the bases for a triple and a 4-1 lead.

It ended Hancock’s outing. Olson greeted his replacement, reliever Trent Thornton, with a hard single to center on his first pitch thrown. Riley jogged home to make it 5-1. Thornton got Ozuna to pop out to second to end the inning.

All four of the runs in the inning were unearned.

“We say it all the time around here: 27 outs, no more,” Servais said. “And we gave more than 27 outs today. That was what ultimately decided the game in that one inning. They were able to put big two-out hits together. That was the game in that inning. You’ve got to play clean to beat good teams. And we weren’t able to overcome that or do enough offensively.”

Hancock’s final line: 3⅔ innings, five runs allowed (only one earned run) on five hits with four walks and four strikeouts.

“I feel like I didn’t really execute pitches that well, especially in the fourth,” he said. “You’ve got to bear down there and try to make some pitches to get out of it.”

The bullpen did everything possible to allow the M’s to pull off a comeback. Thornton, Tyson Miller, Tayler Saucedo and Austin Voth combined to work the final 5⅓ innings scoreless, allowing just one hit with a walk and three strikeouts.

Seattle picked up a run off Sale, who was aided greatly by the wider-than-usual strike zone of home-plate umpire Nic Lentz. In the fifth, Jorge Polanco dumped a soft single to right field to score Seby Zavala.

Sale worked five innings, allowing one run on six hits with no walks and nine strikeouts.

The Mariners picked up another run off the Braves’ bullpen in the seventh. Julio Rodriguez doubled into the left-field corner and scored on Polanco’s line drive to left field.

When Luke Raley worked a leadoff walk off Braves closer Raisel Iglesias and Rodriguez singled for his third hit of the game, Seattle brought the tying run to the plate with no outs. But Iglesias retired Haniger, Polanco and Cal Raleigh to end the game.