Everything was wrapped in that one swing. The eighth-inning rally. The three-week surge. The historic career. It was a little bit of redemption, a whole lot of drama and just enough to get over the wall. Alex Rodriguez tied Lou Gehrig tonight, a monumental grand slam in any setting, but to tie the game, spark a rally and send the Yankees into first place in the American League East?
“I almost feel like it was a swing for the team,” Rodriguez said. “Like everybody needed that hit, and we’ve all been waiting for it.”
Three weeks ago this team had a .500 record and was tied for last place in the division. Tonight they took sole possession of first place with a rally that stood for so much more. The Yankees were left for dead last month, just like they were left for dead tonight. Now they have the best record in the American League, and they’re winning games like this one.
“We get a couple guys on, and we think, got to get one more guy on (then) we get the tying run up to the plate,” Joe Girardi said. “And it changes really quickly.”
Turner Field actually sounded like Yankee Stadium tonight. Braves fans were stunned into silence and Yankees fans — there are a lot of them here — erupted. It was intense. Rodriguez’s line drive was positively crushed so that it got just over the wall in left field and into the hat of a Yankees fan who’d never been to a Yankees game in his life but drove five hours from his home in North Carolina just to see this one.
It was Rodriguez’s 23rd career grand slam, which tied Gehrig’s record. By the time Nick Swisher went deep two batters later to give the Yankees the lead, a win already felt like a forgone conclusion.
“I’m just riding coat tails,” Swisher said.
Of course the Yankees were going to win this game. Sure, they’ve been awful with the bases loaded this season, and yes, CC Sabathia left them in a four-run hole, but the Yankees aren’t going down quietly anymore. Forget everything you thought about this team a month ago. These days, the Yankees really are playing like the best team in the American League.
• How often does a game-winning, eighth-inning home run feel secondary? Swisher’s homer took a backseat to Rodriguez’s grand slam, but the Swisher blast was a big one, and he rounded first base with his arms wide open. You’re not going to believe this, but Swisher was excited. “We were down, getting kicked a little bit all game long,” Swisher said. “And then come the 8th inning, just really fire things up and turn it around. What a game. … I feel like we’re starting to get on a roll, and you need to have games like this to continue that roll. Packed house tonight, and I feel like there were a lot of Bomber fans out here today, which was nice. But it all comes down to timely hitting. If we get guys on, we can put the ball in the seats at any time.”
• Rodriguez on his good at-bat that ended with the grand slam off Braves setup man Jonny Venters: “You know, I had a good look at him yesterday, and Raul (Ibanez) gave me a pretty good scouting report. He faced him quite a bit with the Phillies, and I just thought, get a good pitch to hit, make him get the ball up, and put a good swing on it. I mean, just about a week ago I had a pretty good at-bat against (David) Price, a similar at-bat, and he made a pitch and got me out and I couldn’t finish it. It feels good to finish it.”
• Did Rodriguez think that line drive was going out? “I hit a ball like it yesterday and it was a double,” he said. “But I knew at least it was a double. And when it carried up, I was really happy.”
• Rodriguez on tying Gehrig: “I’ve been a huge admirer of Lou Gehrig and his history and what he stands for and the way he respects the game and the way he represented the pinstripes. There’s a stoic-ness about him that I really enjoyed, and a professionalism. Hey, look, we set the bar very high around here, you know? Not only for me but for my teammates. And we’re following Lou Gehrig.”
• Swisher on Rodriguez tying Gehrig: “I mean, that doesn’t surprise me. He’s going to break that here real soon. He’s one of those guys who’s been doing that his entire career. I’ve been able to watch him here the last four years, and nothing he does ceases to amaze me anymore.”
• Not a great start from CC Sabathia who once again struggled with his fastball command. “I think I was just all over the place, not being able to command anything,” he said. “Curveball. Cutter. Fastball. Changeup was pretty good but I couldn’t get into counts where I could throw it. I’ve just got to be better next time.”
• Although Girardi praised Sabathia for being able to battle and deliver seven innings on a night the bullpen was thin, Sabathia said he’s had far too many starts like this for his taste. “Just limiting the damage, and just trying to get a team win,” he said. “But it’s frustrating when I feel good. I feel like I have good stuff and I can’t really dominate a game the way I want to. Hopefully that’s coming.”
• Sabathia was in the clubhouse and not watching the game when Rodriguez hit the grand slam. “I can hear the stands going crazy,” he said. “It’s kind of weird because there are a lot of Yankees fans here in Atlanta and you can hear the crowd going wild.”
• Rafael Soriano finally had a clean inning and said this was the best his slider has been all season. “They told me he felt pretty good during BP when he played catch,” Girardi said. “I called down and told him to get ready for the ninth. I said to call back and see how he is. Sori said he felt fine, Hark said he felt good, so I went with it.”
• Clay Rapada pitched for the fourth day in a row, something Girardi very, very rarely lets his pitchers do. “Larry talked to him, and he has not thrown a lot of pitches, that’s the thing,” Girardi said. “And a lot of times, the guys who throw from down here (sidearm), it’s a little bit easier to bounce back. And he’s not a real power guy. … I told him I will not pitch you tomorrow, and you will not pitch Thursday.”
• This was the 100th save of Soriano’s career. He got the lineup card to remember it.
• The fan who caught Rodriguez’s grand slam ball gave it back to him in exchange for a jersey and some signed stuff. Rodriguez met the fan — a kid named Randy Kearns — outside the clubhouse after the game.
• Robinson Cano extended his hitting streak to 10 games. … Derek Jeter had another two-hit game and raised his average to .362. … Rodriguez’s run tied him with Mel Ott for 11th on baseball’s all-time runs scored list. … Sabathia has pitched 19 consecutive innings without a home run.
• Rodriguez obviously gets the last word tonight: “The game was 3-0 and we felt we were a walk, a bloop and a bang away from tying this game. And the way we’re playing right now, with our confidence, we felt like they were going to have to get 27 outs.”
Associated Press photos