A-Rod, Swisher Give Braves’ Pen Major Headache

GAME 61

YANKEES 6, BRAVES 4

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez took out starter Mike Minor with one out in the eighth inning nursing a 4-0 lead after Derek Jeter singled and Minor had reached 100 pitches. In what looked to be a minor move at the time turned into a major catastrophe for the Braves.

Lefty reliever Jonny Venters faced the next four batters and he could not retire a single one.

Alex Rodriguez made him pay with an historic grand slam home run and, two batters later, Nick Swisher smashed a game-winning two-run shot of his own as New York got up off the mat and laid the heavy lumber to the Atlanta bullpen on Tuesday for a dramatic 6-4 comeback victory at Turner Field.

The miracle comeback was the Yankees’ fifth victory in a row and their 10th in their last 12 games, propelling the team into first place in the American League East with a 36-25 mark – the best record in the AL.

Rodriguez’s grand slam was the 23rd of his career and it ties him with former Yankee legend Lou Gehrig for first place on the all-time list.

Venters set the stage for Rodriguez and Swisher by giving up a single to Curtis Granderson, which advanced Jeter to second. Venters then walked Mark Teixeira to load the bases.

Falling behind Rodriguez 3-0, Venters threw a called strike and Rodriguez fouled off two more pitches before he connected with the low fastball and drove it out on a line about two rows into the left-field bleachers with a frozen rope you could hung all the Yankees’ laundry on for Rodriguez’s 10th home run of the season and the 639th of his career.

A stunned Turner Field crowd of 41,452 was now staring at a scoreboard that read Yankees 4, Braves 4.

Venters then allowed Cano to fist a single into center and he was serenaded with a cascade of boos as he was replaced by right-hander Cory Gearrin.

Swisher greeted Gearrin by smacking a 1-0 change-up into the bleachers in right-center for his 10th home run of the season and the Yankees had their first lead of the game. Previously, the Braves had been 27-0 this season when leading after seven innings.

In Gehrig’s legendary speech at Yankee Stadium he said, “Today, I am the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.” After this comeback victory, CC Sabathia should say the same thing.

Sabathia (8-3) got credit for a victory he frankly did not deserve.

Sabathia was rocked for three runs in the first inning, keyed by a bases-clearing double by Matt Diaz. The Braves loaded the bases on him again in the seventh and pushed another run across on an RBI groundout by Jason Heyward.

In seven innings of work, Sabathia fought to command his fastball and gave up four runs on 10 hits and and two walks and he struck six batters.

Minor, meanwhile, shut out the Yankees on five hits and one walk and he struck out four in 7 1/3 innings. Many Braves fans are wondering now if Gonzalez perhaps may have taken him out just a bit too soon.

Once the Yankees took the lead, manager Joe Girardi chose to use lefty Clay Rapada for the eighth and he pitched a scoreless frame. Then Rafael Soriano, who blew his last save opportunity on Sunday against the Mets and who also was nursing a blister on right index finger, came in to pitch the ninth.

He set Martin Prado, Brian McCann and Dan Uggla down in order, striking out McCann and Uggla swinging, to earn his 10th save in 11 tries.

The Yankees have clinched the three-game series by winning the first two games and they are now 8-2 at Turner Field.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Rodriguez’s historic grand slam was also a meaningful blast for the Yankees. The home run erased Minor’s 7 1/3 innings of shutout baseball and set the stage for the come-from-behind victory. It was Rodriguez’s first multiple-RBI game since June 1 and his first home run since June 3 and both of those events came in the same series against the Tigers in Detroit.
  • Swisher’s blast off Gearrin was only his second home run of the month. Swisher also became the sixth Yankee to hit at least 10 home runs this season. Russell Martin has nine. His two RBIs give him 39 on the season, which still is the most on the team.
  • Give Rapada and Soriano credit for shutting down the Braves in the final two innings. The bullpen was short because Boone Logan and Cory Wade were not really available and only Freddy Garcia and David Phelps could pitch for any length of time. But the pair shut out the Braves over the last two innings with no hits, one walk and they struck out three.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The Yankees were 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position and that one hit was Rodriguez’s grand slam. There is reason why they are last in the American League with RISP. But they are not really paying much of a price now because they use the home run to cover that weakness. But if they don’t improve soon it will bite them.
  • Sabathia has really been shaky his last two starts. He has given up nine runs (seven earned) on 17 hits and three walks and struck out 18 in 14 innings. Sabathia’s problem has falling behind and hitters are teeing off on him when he has to throw a strike. Still, he is 8-3 with a 3.80 ERA on the season.
  • Here is the reason why Gonzalez may have made a big mistake in taking out Minor when he did. Up to that point, Teixeira, Rodriguez and Cano were a combined 0-for-8 against him. Teixeira drew a first-inning walk and that was pretty much it for the heart of the lineup until the eighth.

BOMBER BANTER

Closer Mariano Rivera had surgery on Tuesday to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee but there was no repairable damage to his meniscus. That was cited as great news by the Yankees. Rivera suffered the injury on May 3 in Kansas City, however, he had to postpone the surgery until a blot clot in his right calf was dissolved by medication. The surgery was performed in New York by the Mets’ team physician, Dr. David Altchek. Rivera will miss the rest of the season but he said he will pitch for the Yankees in 2013.  . . .  All-Star setup man David Robertson pitched a scoreless inning for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Tuesday. He will rejoin the Yankees in Atlanta on Wednesday but he will not be activated until the Yankees open a weekend series on Friday with the Nationals in Washington. Robertson has missed just about one month with a left oblique strain.

ON DECK

The Yankees will have an opportunity to sweep their second consecutive three-game series against the Braves on Wednesday.

Veteran right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (5-6, 3.46) will start for the Yankees. He is coming off a one-hit, seven-inning gem against the Mets although he had to leave with a bruised left foot. Kuroda is 2-0 with 0.82 ERA in his last three starts. He is 1-4 with a 2.10 ERA against the Braves.

Veteran right-hander Tim Hudson (4-2, 3.83) will oppose Kuroda. He shut out the Marlins last Tuesday but required three extra days to rest a sore left ankle. He is 1-3 with a 3.78 ERA in his career against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by ESPN and locally by the YES Network.

 

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