- 142 wins
- 110 wins
ATLANTA -- Instead of celebrating Mike Minor's finest start of the season with his back against the wall, the Braves saw Jonny Venters' struggles extend into a second demoralizing defeat in three days.
Minor could only watch as Alex Rodriguez drilled a game-tying grand slam off Venters and Nick Swisher hit a two-run home run off Cory Gearrin to cap a six-run eighth inning that set up the Yankees' 6-4 comeback win over the Braves on Tuesday night.
"You feel comfortable with a four-run lead with five outs to go," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Traditionally, we've closed those games out. It just didn't happen to us tonight."
When Minor exited his 100-pitch effort with a 4-0 lead, one runner on and one out in the eighth, it seemed the question of the night would be whether the left-hander's impressive effort had altered the plans surrounding Kris Medlen, who has spent the past couple of weeks with Triple-A Gwinnett preparing to be a starting pitcher.
By the end of the night, that question seemed trivial compared to a few others. What is wrong with Venters? Why didn't Eric O'Flaherty pitch? Had Medlen simply remained in the bullpen, would the Braves have avoided blowing four-run leads in the fifth inning or later twice in the span of three days?
"There are no excuses; Mike threw the ball really well tonight," Venters said. "It's a shame to waste that start. He looked really good, and I feel bad I let my team down and didn't do my job."
With O'Flaherty fighting a sore left elbow that will sideline him for a few more days and the belief that Minor had gone as far as he should, Gonzalez called upon Venters, who had distanced himself from an ugly May by surrendering just one hit in his five previous appearances this month.
This marked the beginning of a troubling series of events. Venters allowed a Curtis Granderson single and walked Mark Teixeira before seeing Rodriguez line a 3-2 fastball over the left-field fence for a game-tying and record-tying grand slam.
Along with tying Lou Gehrig's all-time record with his 23rd career grand slam, Rodriguez created the momentum that Swisher took advantage of by drilling the second pitch Gearrin threw over the right-center-field wall for what proved to be a decisive drive.
"I wasn't trying to leave it over the plate -- maybe a walk right there's not terrible with one of the best players to ever play the game at the plate," Venters said. "It is what it is. I made a bad pitch, and he crushed it."
With Livan Hernandez two days removed from a rough relief appearance and Chad Durbin having pitched in each of the previous two days, Gonzalez called upon the recently promoted Gearrin with the hope that the righty might have more success against left-handed hitters than he has in the past. Two pitches later, Swisher answered that question.
Having been turned around to bat left-handed against the sidearm-dealing Gearrin, Swisher responded by crushing a 1-0 fastball over the right-center-field wall. The decisive two-run homer left the Braves to deal what might have been their toughest loss of the year. They had won each of the previous 27 games they had led after seven innings.
"It was a tough one for all of us," Gonzalez said.
Handed a third consecutive loss just three days after his club notched a sixth consecutive win, Gonzalez was not ready to discuss how the evening's events might influence his pitching staff. Medlen spent Tuesday night allowing three runs over six innings for Triple-A Gwinnett against Pawtucket. There is a chance this was the last of the Minor League starts that were assigned to stretch him out to join Atlanta's rotation.
Minor, who had posted an 8.84 ERA in his previous seven starts, likely kept his rotation spot by limiting the Yankees to one run over 7 1/3 innings. But the Braves may need to bring Medlen back to simply strengthen their bullpen.
Gonzalez said that Medlen's two-week absence from Atlanta's bullpen was felt on Sunday when he was unavailable to work what would have been a multi-inning appearance. Had he been available, that game's outcome might have been different. In addition, Durbin might not have pitched that day. Thus the Braves may have been able to call upon Medlen instead of Gearrin in this latest loss.
"We still have to get a couple outs there and hand the ball over to [closer] Craig Kimbrel," Gonzalez said.
It did not take the Braves long to end their 15-inning scoreless streak. After Brian McCann's first-inning double put runners at second and third with one out, Yankees starter CC Sabathia walked Dan Uggla. The move proved costly when Matt Diaz responded with an opposite-field three-run double off the Yankees' ace.
The Braves went hitless over seven more at-bats with runners in scoring position through the first four innings. They also managed just one run after loading the bases with one out in the seventh against Sabathia. This combined with the bullpen meltdown led to an unfortunate conclusion for Minor.
"I think we pushed [Minor] as far as we could push him, really," Gonzalez said. "We tried to get him through there. He did a terrific job. It's a shame he didn't get the 'W,' because he really deserved to get the 'W.' We didn't do it for him."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.