ATLANTA (AP) — Miguel Cabrera and the Detroit Tigers no longer control their own playoff destiny.
Now they need some help.
Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis homered, rookie Aaron Blair had a career-high 10 strikeouts and the last-place Atlanta Braves damaged Detroit’s postseason hopes with a 5-3 victory Saturday night.
Trying to return to the postseason after missing out last year, Detroit dropped 1 1/2 games out of the second AL wild-card spot. The Tigers (86-74) need a win Sunday and a loss by Toronto or Baltimore to avoid elimination.
"All year long we’ve played well, had a few bad stretches, came back and fought through a lot of adversity," catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. "Guys are obviously tired this time of the season. We’re trying to find a way any way we can."
The Tigers will have ace Justin Verlander on the mound Sunday. But they can only hope a potential home makeup game Monday against Cleveland would still give them an opportunity to get involved in a wild-card tiebreaker.
"Tomorrow comes to a must-win," Detroit manager Brad Ausmus said, "and there’s no other pitcher we’d rather have on this team than Justin Verlander on the mound."
Atlanta took a 5-2 lead in the seventh on Adonis Garcia’s two-run single, but reliever Mauricio Cabrera loaded the bases with no outs in the eighth. Chaz Roe struck out Miguel Cabrera and got J.D. Martinez to ground into a double play.
"When you’ve got Miggy coming up with bases loaded, no outs, you know you’re in a tough spot," Freeman said. "But Chaz Roe did a heck of a job."
Ausmus credited Braves rookie shortstop Dansby Swanson with an exceptional play on Martinez’s sharp grounder.
"Tip your hat to Swanson," Ausmus said. "He makes a great play on a line drive in the hole to his backhand and was able to turn two on it. It just wasn’t happening for us."
Braves closer Jim Johnson gave up a run in the ninth on Jose Iglesias’ infield single but retired pinch-hitter Victor Martinez to earn his 19th save in 22 chances. The Braves have won 11 of 13 heading into the last game at Turner Field.
Freeman’s 34th homer put the Braves up 2-1 in the fourth. Markakis’ 13th made it 3-1 in the sixth.
Blair (2-7) began the night with an 8.02 ERA but gave up four hits, two runs and one walk in five innings. He kept the Tigers off balance early with a sharp curveball, striking out five of the first six batters he faced.
Detroit starter Jordan Zimmermann (9-7) allowed three hits, two runs, three walks and struck out two in four innings. In four starts since June 24, the right-hander is 0-4 with an 11.64 ERA.
Zimmermann, who left Washington to sign a $110 million, five-year contract last December, has struggled with groin and upper-body injuries in his first season with the Tigers. He threw 37 pitches in the fourth, getting the third out with the bases loaded.
Detroit led 1-0 in the third after Ian Kinsler’s RBI double and cut the lead to 3-2 in the seventh on Justin Upton’s 31st homer.
Blair’s previous high was five strikeouts in a win at Miami on May 28.
CAN’T THANK YOU ENOUGH
The Braves made a big point to acknowledge the man who steered their move to a new ballpark next year.
Tim Lee, who lost a re-election bid in July as Cobb County Commission chairman, threw out the ceremonial first pitch and then was greeted with a handshake from every player and coach. Team executives John Schuerholz, Bill Bartholomay, Mike Plant and Derek Schiller gave him a hug.
Lee secretly negotiated with the team for Cobb County to spend approximately $400 million in public money and build SunTrust Park, the Braves’ new home after concluding their tenure at Turner Field on Sunday.
FAREWELL TO THE TED
The Braves announced that the finale is sold out. Turner Field’s capacity is 49,586.
Tigers: Verlander (16-8) leads the AL with 246 strikeouts and ranks second with a .206 opponents’ batting average. He’s 2-0 with a 3.21 ERA in two career starts against the Braves, each of them at Turner Field.
Braves: RHP Julio Teheran (6-10) did not get a decision in his last start, giving up 10 hits and six runs over four innings. The All-Star is 1-6 with a 3.84 ERA in 17 home starts.