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Norton gets last laugh against Mariners

Norton gets last laugh vs. Mariners

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ATLANTA -- Greg Norton has the uncanny ability to make the routine look strenuous and the clutch look effortless. But then again, so do the Braves, who finally staged a late-inning comeback.

Brian McCann got credit for the walk-off, as his bloop single with the bases loaded and no outs in the ninth inning found a hole and gave the Braves a stunning 5-4 win over the Mariners on Saturday night.

But even the Braves' catcher had to defer the attention on this night.

Any hitter, he reasoned, could have found a way to get that winning run across with the infield in and the bases full, even if the Braves have had seemingly endless bad luck finding holes in the defense.

Saturday night's win was the first time the Braves had won when trailing after eight innings. They are now 1-29 in that situation.

The man who had a big hand in changing that fortune was Norton, the Braves' left fielder, who was cast off by the Mariners in early May when he was designated for assignment.

He has admittedly never been much of a fielder during his 12-year career, and he added another for his highlight reel in the fourth inning. Norton misread a Kenji Johjima line drive and wound up fully extended before falling awkwardly to the ground. Somehow, the ball was lodged in his glove.

"I'm just trying to get on 'Web Gems' once a week by taking bad routes," Norton joked. "I'm 36 years old. I can barely fall down without getting hurt, so I don't really know how to fall down gracefully."

After the play, Norton immediately looked into the Mariners' bullpen, where his old teammates were laughing hysterically. When Norton warmed up before the start of the next inning, Seattle relievers threw him a ball with an unprintable inscription on it. He read it, laughed and promptly threw it into the stands.

So this wasn't just an ordinary game for Norton, although he had insisted beforehand that he would not put any added pressure on himself to deliver the clutch hit against his former team -- a way of showing the Mariners what they were missing.

Three at-bats into his night, however, and Norton realized he was in fact pressing.

"I was swinging at every pitch over my head for two out of the first three at-bats, thinking I could hit it." he said. "That didn't work out for me."

He was more patient during his ninth-inning at-bat, stroking a run-scoring double off Mariners reliever Miguel Batista that tied the game at 4. The hit scored Kelly Johnson, who led off the ninth with a walk.

After Mark Teixeira was intentionally walked and Jeff Francoeur was hit by a pitch, McCann fought off a cutter on his hands and dropped the ball over the head of Mariners second baseman Jose Lopez for the game-winner.

"My hit was just in the right spot," McCann said, downplaying his 43rd RBI of the season. "I was at the right place at the right time and I found a hole."

And it may have also come at the right time for the Braves, on the verge of dropping two straight games to the Mariners, who own the worst record in the Major Leagues (26-48).

The Braves were quick to dispel the notion that losing the first two to the Mariners would have been devastating -- "They're not as bad as their record," McCann said -- but they are now in line for a series win if Tim Hudson can pitch well in the series finale on Sunday.

"They're all big," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "We can peck away. By the All-Star break, we want to get closer than we are right now. We need to win."

The Braves sensed a comeback was possible in the eighth inning, when Ruben Gotay hit a two-out homer that cut the deficit to 4-2.

Then Gregor Blanco hit a slow roller to shortstop. Yuniesky Betancourt barehanded it and threw wildly to first base. Blanco alertly ran to third on what was ruled a three-base throwing error.

Cox then called upon Chipper Jones to pinch-hit. Jones, who did not start after reaggravating his strained right quadriceps on Friday, lined an RBI single up the middle and gingerly jogged to first base. He was immediately removed for a pinch-runner, and he received a standing ovation from the sellout crowd of 47,158.

"Big hit," Cox said. "Gee wiz, huge."

Yunel Escobar, who strained his right hip flexor on Friday and was listed as day-to-day, pinch-hit with two on and two out in the sixth, but grounded into a fielder's choice to end the inning.

Lost in the Braves' comeback was the strong outing of Jair Jurrjens, who pitched six strong innings and didn't allow an earned run. He lowered his ERA at Turner Field to 2.49.

The Mariners scored three unearned runs in the first inning, after backup shortstop Omar Infante made two errors. Infante's second error, which made Escobar hop off the bench and begin pacing in the Braves' dugout, led to a two-run single by Betancourt that gave the Mariners a 3-0 lead.

"He's generally just sure-handed as heck," Cox said of Infante, who redeemed himself by going 3-for-5 with a double.

The gaffes didn't end up hurting the Braves, who improved to 4-19 in one-run games this season. The Braves also moved to within five games of first-place Philadelphia in the National League East.

"We were due," McCann said. "If we want to play in the postseason, we need to start doing the little things to win ballgames."

Ryan Lavner is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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