By The Sports Xchange
ATLANTA — The Atlanta Braves, trying to play the spoiler’s role in the final series at Turner Field, put a damper on the Detroit Tigers’ wild-card hopes in the American League.
Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis homered to spark a 5-3 interleague victory Saturday night that left the Tigers needing a victory in the series finale on Sunday and then another in a makeup game against Cleveland on Monday in Detroit to have a chance at the postseason.
“We’re not dead yet,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said.
The loss, though, left Detroit (86-74) 1 1/2 games behind Baltimore and Toronto, who hold the two wild-card spots with 88-73 records.
Rookie Aaron Blair (2-7) struck out 10 over six innings for the Braves and reliever Chaz Roe pitched out of an inherited bases-loaded jam in the eighth inning by fanning Miguel Cabrera and getting a double play when rookie shortstop Dansby Swanson snagged J.D. Martinez’s sharp grounder.
“The turning point was Swanson’s play,” Ausmus said. “J.D. didn’t do anything wrong. He squared it up. Credit Swanson.”
Swanson backhanded the Martinez smash in the hole.
“I just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” Swanson said. “I started it, but there was a lot more that went into it, including the turn. Chaz did a great job getting out of that.”
Swanson was also 2-for-3 with a walk and scored a run while raising his average to .310.
“He’s amazing. It’s going to be fun watching him the next 15 or 20 years,” said Braves interim manager Brian Snitker.
The victory was the 11th in 13 games for the Braves (67-93) and they are 36-35 since the All-Star break.
Freeman’s two-run homer came off Tigers starter Jordan Zimmermann (9-7) in the fourth inning and was his 34th of the season.
Justin Upton’s no-doubt blast to left field for his 31st homer leading off the seventh inning chased Blair, who allowed two runs on four hits and a walk in the best of his 16 major league starts.
Adonis Garcia’s two-RBI single in the bottom of the seventh pushed the Braves lead to three runs. Reliever Shane Greene faced four batters and gave up three hits, one on a bunt by pinch-hitter Mallex Smith.
The Tigers scored once in the ninth on a double by Nick Castellanos and a two-out infield hit by Jose Iglesias, but Jim Johnson retired pinch-hitter Victor Martinez for his 19th save.
Zimmermann came in with 7-3 record and 2.55 ERA in 16 career games against the Braves, but the right-hander had made just two starts since June 30 and pitched just three innings in relief since Sept. 10.
Zimmermann was sharp through three innings against the Braves, allowing just a double to Swanson, but he hit a wall in the fourth.
Freeman put the Braves ahead with a homer to right-center field on a 3-2 slider after a leadoff single by Garcia. Three walks followed, but the bases were left loaded.
“I think he got a little tired,” said Ausmus, who was hoping for five innings from Zimmermann. “He wasn’t that far off.”
Blair struck out five of the first six Tigers batters before walking Jarrod Saltalamacchia leading off the third. That led to the game’s first run. Zimmermann laid down a sacrifice bunt and Ian Kinsler drove in Jarrod Saltalamacchia with a double.
Markakis gave the Braves a 3-1 lead in the sixth inning with his 13th homer of the season, connecting on a 2-1 slider from reliever Alex Wilson.
NOTES: The Tigers will start RHP Justin Verlander (16-8, 3.10 ERA) on Sunday with the postseason potentially on the line in the final game at Turner Field for the Braves. Verlander is 33-16 in career regular-season games during September and October, and has won both his career starts in Atlanta. RHP Julio Teheran (6-10, 3.33 ERA) will start for the Braves. He is 1-6 at home this year and has struggled at times since coming off the DL in mid-August. … Tigers OF Tyler Collins sprained an ankle during batting practice. … Braves vice chairman John Schuerholz turned 76 on Saturday. … The Turner Field finale is a sellout, with standing room-only tickets put on sale early in the week. The Braves move to SunTrust Park in suburban Atlanta next season.