The Mariners and the Braves came into Saturday tied with the best record in the Major Leagues, this on the heels of a stellar performance by Freddy Garcia led Seattle to victory Friday night.
While pitching was definitely the story of game one, the two teams followed the same script on Saturday. Jamie Moyer, with his league best 10 wins, went against the struggling Mike Hampton.
Moyer looked very good in front of another sell-out at Safeco, however Atlanta countered with Hampton, a former Mariner, who allowed just one run and two hits in seven innings to lead Atlanta to a 3-1 win.
The Braves jumped out early and then added a few late, which would be enough, despite an M's rally in the 8th.
Oakland gained a game on the Mariners (44-22) with a victory over Montreal on Saturday and Atlanta (45-21) added a game to its lead over Montreal with an Expos' loss.
Hampton had been struggling of late, but you would never know it if you saw him pitch on Saturday. Hampton (3-3) gave up two hits over seven innings. The Mariners threatened many times, getting runners in scoring position on several occasions. but they could never capitalize.
Moyer (10-3) had a great pitching performance as well. He gave up a run in the first inning but then pitched five straight scoreless innings. He then gave up a run in the 7th and 8th innings.
The Mariners' 40-year-old lefty left after 7.1 innings, giving up three runs on seven hits. He uncharactersticaly walked four, which didn't help his cause.
The M's tried to rally in the 8th when they loaded the bases against former Mariner farmhand, Kevin Gryboski. That fire was put out rather quickly, however, when Braves manager countered with closer John Smoltz, who was asked to get the final six outs of the game against the heart of the Mariners' lineup.
Smoltz, a former starter with a Cy Young award to his credit, got Bret Boone to fly to center - scoring the M's only run - then struck out Edgar Martinez and forced John Olerud to ground out.
After a scoreless ninth, Smoltz recorded his 26th save.
Mike Cameron led off the ninth with a walk, but inexplicably was thrown out attempting to steal second base, down 3-1. He was then thrown out by catcher Javier Lopez, all but ending the M's hopes. The next to batters were retired in order.
Ichiro was 2 for 3 on the game, raising his team leading average to .337.
Gil Meche seeks his ninth win on Sunday against future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux in the rubber match of this series.