M's hold on to beat Braves

Garcia won his fourth in a row (Getty Images)

In a battle for the rights to being the best team in baseball, the American League leading Seattle Mariners took round one from the National League leading Atlanta Braves Friday night. A pair of left-handers, Seattle's Jamie Moyer and Atlanta's Mike Hampton, will matchup Saturday at 12:15 p.m.

Baseball players often try to downplay the importance of any series that is played in the early months of the season, no matter what the circumstance or who the opponent.

But when the Atlanta Braves came to Seattle Friday for the first of three games against the Mariners, there was no denying this wasn't a normal ho-hum type of interleague game.

This night, it paired the National League leading Braves, who came in 24-games over .500, against the Mariners, the American League's best team at 22-games over .500.

The home town Mariners didn't disappoint the sellout Safeco Field crowd, getting another great starting performance from Freddy Garcia and enough offense early for a slim 2-1 win.

Seattle (44-21) maintained an eight-game lead over Oakland, who knocked of Montreal earlier in the evening.

Due to the Expos' loss, Atlanta (44-21) kept its six-game lead over the division foes from north of the border.

Garcia (7-6) was simply magnificent all game long, spotting his fastball and mixing in his devastating offspeed stuff.

Against a Braves team with more firepower than any other squad in baseball - seven of the hitters in their lineup bat over .300 - Garcia limited them to just one run on seven hits.

"The Chief" added five strikeouts and lowered his season ERA to 4.69.

Seattle took advantage of some shotty Atlanta defense to score both of its runs in the first inning.

Mark McLemore scored from second base on a two-out Edgar Martinez single off of shortstop Rafael Furcal's glove for their first run. Furcal tried to throw Martinez out at first, but nobody was at the bag so the Mariners' 40-year-old designated hitter advanced to second base.

John Olerud followed with a single to score Martinez, making it 2-0.

That would prove to be all the Mariners' could score off of Atlanta starter Russ Ortiz, who came over in the offseason from San Francisco. Ortiz kept his pitch count low and held the Mariners to seven hits through 7.2 innings.

The Braves only run came in the eighth. Vinny Castilla singled off of Garcia to lead off the inning, and two batters later Marcus Giles doubled deep to right field to score Castilla all the way from first.

With only one out, Bob Melvin chose to go to his bullpen. Shigetoshi Hasegawa came on to face Gary Sheffield, and got the former Most Valuable Player to pop up to shallow center. Then, with Chipper Jones due up, Melvin went to Arthur Rhodes for the final out of the eighth. But Jones walked, bringing up one of the hottest hitters in baseball in Andruw Jones.

Jones got the fat part of the bat on Rhodes' first offering, sending a screamer to Jeff Cirillo at third base. Cirillo dove to field the ball, rose to his feet, and fired a bullet to Bret Boone covering the bag at second base to force out Chipper Jones.

Cirillo pumped his fist in the air, bringing the Safeco Field crowd to their feet.

Jeff Nelson came on and retired the side in order in the ninth for his fourth save.

Ortiz dropped to 7-4 on the year.

Olerud led Seattle with two hits, while Giles and Andruw Jones each added two for Atlanta.

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