ATLANTA -- The Tigers' control of their postseason destiny slipped from their grasp Saturday as they swung and missed at Aaron Blair curveballs. The Braves' rookie starter held Detroit's offense to two runs and 10 strikeouts over six-plus innings, allowing Atlanta's offense to wear down Detroit's bullpen for a 5-3 win Saturday night at Turner Field.
While the Braves matched their 2015 total of 67 wins with a game to spare, the Tigers fell to the brink of elimination from the American League Wild Card race. Detroit needs a win Sunday, plus either a Toronto loss at Boston or an Orioles loss at the Yankees, to stay alive heading into Monday.
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"It certainly doesn't help," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said, "but we're not dead yet."
A loss Sunday would knock out the Tigers, with or without a makeup game against the Indians on Monday at Comerica Park.
"It feels good to win that game like we did," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "I don't relish spoiling anybody. I relish in how well we played that ballgame. I have more satisfaction and gratification in watching Aaron Blair do what he did and watching guys execute and make plays. Spoiling, I don't care about that. I like our team when they play like that. It makes me feel good when you play a baseball game like that."
Blair entered his 15th Major League start with an 8.02 ERA and no more than five strikeouts in any outing, but he shut down a Tigers offense that had averaged six runs a game over the past 10 games. Blair struck out five of Detroit's first six batters, then five of his final 12 after Ian Kinsler doubled home Jarrod Saltalamacchia for a brief Tigers lead in the fourth.
"We swung at a lot of balls," Miguel Cabrera said. "It was our fault. We didn't do any adjustments early in the game and we went up there and swung at a lot of balls and he threw his game."
Freddie Freeman's two-run home run erased that advantage in what ended up being a 37-pitch fourth and final inning for Jordan Zimmermann (9-7). But the difference for the Braves came off Detroit's bullpen, from Nick Markakis' sixth-inning solo homer off Alex Wilson to Adonis García's two-run single off Shane Greene in the seventh.
"I strike out six times in a row and I finally hit one," Martinez said, "and it's like I really wish I would have struck out there to get it to [Justin Upton], you know? It was just right at him. If that ball goes through, it's a different ballgame. "
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MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Dansby dazzles: Rookie shortstop Dansby Swanson capped a two-hit game with a leadoff single in Atlanta's two-run seventh, but the moment he'll always remember from this game was created in the eighth when his diving stop of Martinez's sharp grounder resulted in an inning-ending double play.
"When the postseason gets here, everything gets a little bit more dialed in," Swanson said. "We just kind of had it shaded perfectly. Chaz made the pitches, a lot of them. He made some good ones. I just happened to be right there and give credit to [second baseman] Jace [Peterson] for being able to turn it the way he did. Without him, that's only one out." More >
Kinsler ducks, then recovers: Kinsler, who suffered concussion symptoms after being hit in the head by a Trevor Bauer pitch two weeks ago, had to duck away from a first-pitch fastball by Blair with two outs in the third. He sent Blair's next offering into the left-field corner for an RBI double, scoring Saltalamacchia to give the Tigers an early lead.
"They've never seen this guy before," Ausmus said, "so once you get a look at him, a lot of times there's an adjustment made and it's better the second time through."
The best for last: Blair spent most of this season's second half with Triple-A Gwinnett and might not have made a start during the season's final month had the Braves not run out of options to fill their injury-depleted rotation. But as the right-hander recorded five strikeouts while proving perfect through the first two innings, he started looking like the pitcher that was advertised when he entered this season as a highly touted prospect.
"It's a good way to go out. It shows a lot of the work I did over the past month or so," Blair said. "I was just grateful to have the opportunity to pitch again."
Upton goes deep again: One night after finishing a historic September with his 30th home run, Upton went deep at his old home park again, this time with more authority. He pounced on one of the few mistakes Blair threw all night and sent it into the left-field seats to cut Detroit's deficit in half to 3-2 and tie his career high in home runs with 31, set in 2011 with the D-backs.
"That was a playoff-type atmosphere there. That's what it feels like. I remember when we were playing the Dodgers [in the playoffs] in Dodger Stadium. You couldn't hear and that's kind of what it feels like right there. The crowd was into it and it was really neat. It was a great night all around." -- Snitker, on the raucous crowd that attended the penultimate game in Turner Field's history
"You can say whatever you want about their record and whatever, but they're a big league team. You get to this level, the talent's all equal. It's just execution and the mental side, and so they executed today and we didn't." -- Martinez, on Braves
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Freeman's two-run homer in the fourth was his 83rd extra-base hit. He will need to produce a big season finale to match the Atlanta-record 87 extra-base hits Chipper Jones notched during his 1999 National League MVP season.
The Tigers' Tyler Collins was unavailable to pinch-hit Saturday after spraining his left ankle during pregame batting practice. He was shagging fly balls when he stepped into a sprinkler hole. He hopes to be available Sunday.
Tigers: Detroit will put its postseason hopes on the right arm of Justin Verlander in the series finale Sunday at 3:10 p.m. ET. He threw 7 2/3 scoreless innings with 12 strikeouts against the Indians on Tuesday.
Braves:Julio Teheran will take the mound Sunday for the final game in Turner Field's history. Teheran will attempt to bounce back from Tuesday's rough start against the Phillies, tarnish the Tigers' postseason hopes and add to the celebratory feel fans will create while visiting The Ted one last time.
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