Mariners 2, Braves 1

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SEATTLE (AP)—Gil Meche is pitching so well that Sunday, he was better than Greg Maddux at his best.

Meche, back in the majors this season after two shoulder operations, outdueled the four-time Cy Young winner as the Seattle Mariners beat the Atlanta Braves 2-1.

“My brother-in-law asked me how could I not be nervous going into this game,” Meche said. “I don’t know how I did it, to be honest. I just feel relaxed, no matter who I’m facing. I’ve known I had Maddux for the past week. I couldn’t wait.”

Ichiro Suzuki had a pair of infield singles, scored both Seattle runs and stole three bases. Bret Boone had both RBIs.

The Mariners took two of three from the Braves in a matchup of the teams with the best records in each league. It’s only June, but it was an exciting series for sold-out crowds every day.

“It was great for the fans, but a little tough on me,” Mariners manager Bob Melvin said. “We had well-pitched games every night. We had good defense. That’s the way it happens in the postseason.”

Meche (9-3) pitched 7 1-3 innings. He allowed four hits and one run with six strikeouts and two walks, leaving to a standing ovation after giving up a one-out single to pinch-hitter Matt Franco in the eighth.

“It’s happening so fast for me,” Meche said. “I’ve already had 13 starts and nine wins. Who would have thought I’d be saying that after what I’ve been through?”

Shigetoshi Hasegawa took over, retiring the next two batters to end the threat. Arthur Rhodes came in after Hasegawa gave up a leadoff single to Gary Sheffield in the ninth, and Jeff Nelson got the final out for his fifth save in seven chances.

“It’s fun to close,” said Nelson, who finished because Kazuhiro Sasaki is on the disabled list. “Every reliever would like to throw in the ninth inning, but you don’t get the opportunity too often if you’ve got Kaz on your team.”

Maddux (5-6), meanwhile, was as good as ever. His 11 strikeouts were a season high and he might have been the winner if not for Suzuki’s sprints to first base and Boone’s RBI double in the first.

“That might be the best game I’ve seen Maddux pitch, to be honest with you,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. “Two infield singles, and both runs scored on that. He was flawless all day. One pitch to Boone, really, and that was it.”

Maddux pitched seven innings, allowing two runs and five hits without a walk. In the sixth, he struck out Mark McLemore for the third time—the 2,700th strikeout of his career.

“It’s no secret he started slow this season,” Braves second baseman Marcus Giles said. “Around here, you have 100 percent confidence in him. He’s Greg Maddux. That’s all that needs to be said.

Suzuki led off the first with an infield single, stole second, then went to third on an error by Giles.

He scored on Boone’s double to left.

“Sometimes you have to win 1-0,” Maddux said. “Make a better pitch to Boone and who knows what happens?”

The Mariners scored again in the third when Suzuki hit his second infield single and eventually scored on Boone’s groundout.

A major-leaguer at age 20 in 1999, Meche missed the last two seasons because of shoulder problems. Until this year, he hadn’t won in the majors since June 2000.

“Gil’s been outstanding,” Melvin said. “He’s pitched against (Roger) Clemens in Yankee Stadium. He’s had some marquee matchups.”

Meche went right at the Braves, throwing 96-mph fastballs and leaving them guessing with his 78-mph changeup.

“I knew I had to be aggressive,” Meche said. “If I can throw mid-90s and locate the ball or throw low 90s and locate the ball, I’ll take it if I can just keep the ball down.

Chipper Jones drew a leadoff walk in the second, but Meche didn’t allow another baserunner until Robert Fick’s one-out single in the fifth.

Meche’s only trouble came in the sixth, when he allowed a two-out single by Rafael Furcal and walked Giles. Gary Sheffield singled to center, scoringFurcal to make it 2-1.

Notes

In the series, Atlanta had five runs, 20 hits and three errors. Seattle had five runs on 16 hits without an error. … The Mariners are 11-1 on Sundays, their best day of the week. … Seattle DH Edgar Martinez went0-for-3, falling to 3-for-24 against NL teams in 12 interleague games.

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