NEW YORK – On a night when Atlanta’s retiring third baseman had a tough error that cost a run and its veteran pitcher labored through five innings, it was youth that served a 4-3 win for the Braves against the sizzling New York Yankees.
Rookie shortstop Andrelton Simmons drove in two runs and fellow 22-year-old Jason Heyward threw out a runner at the plate and had the game-winning RBI for the Braves, who snapped a three-game losing skid and ended the Yankees’ 10-game winning streak, the longest in the majors this season.
“The youngsters getting it done today,” Simmons said with a laugh, thoroughly enjoying the aftermath of his 16th game in the major leagues.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said, “It’s nice to see those guys playing on a big stage like this against a big team that’s hot as a firecracker…. [Heyward] can change the game so many difference ways, offensively, defensively and on the basepath. And he did today.”
Tim Hudson (5-3) won for just the second time in 12 career starts and six decisions against the Yankees, who led 2-0 after two innings and lost for only the second time in 18 games. The Braves snapped a six-game losing streak against the Yankees that included a three-game sweep last week at Turner Field.
Four Braves relievers pitched a scoreless inning apiece: Chad Durbin followed by Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty and Craig Kimbrel, the 24-year-old closer who collected his National League-leading 20th save in 21 opportunities with a perfect ninth inning including two strikeouts.
“I thought our bullpen today bent a little bit but didn’t break,” Gonzalez said, “and it’s showing some signs of being the bullpen of last year. It’s tough to hold a one-run lead in this ballpark against that lineup, and we did it.”
Hudson threw 109 pitches (65 strikes) and allowed four hits, three runs (two earned) and five walks with five strikeouts. It was anything but an efficient five innings, but he made some big pitches when needed most, including a bases-loaded strikeout of slugger Curtis Granderson to end the fourth inning.
He also got crucial defensive assistance from Heyward in the fifth.
With the score tied at 3-all, Hudson issued consecutive two-out walks to Mark Teixiera and Raul Ibanez in the fifth, drawing manager Fredi Gonzalez from the dugout for a brief discussion with the pitcher. He left Hudson in to face Nick Swisher, who singled to right field, where Heyward was ready.
Teixiera tried to score from second base on the play, but Heyward fielded the ball while charging in and came up firing, throwing a perfect strike to catcher Brian McCann, who applied to tag to end the inning.
“He shows flashes of greatness,” Hudson said of Heyward. “Every now and again he shows you what he can do. Defensively he’s been awesome. He covers a lot of ground out there and he’s got a great arm, and he’s been coming up with some big hits for us lately. It’s nice to see.”
Third baseman Chipper Jones: “That’s the best throw I’ve seen him make. Especially under pressure. And he swung the bat good, too. He got us kind of kick-started there early, then put the icing on the cake late.”
An inning later, Heyward put the Braves ahead with his two-out single that caromed hard off the foot of first baseman Teixiera. The hit scored Brian McCann, who led off the inning by bouncing a double over the center-field fence and advanced to third on a groundout.
After Jones drew a two-out walk to put runners on the corners, Heyward’s hit put the Braves ahead to stay.
“About the last five days to a week, he’s probably swung the bat as well as anybody in the lineup,” Jones said. “He’s been a tough out against lefties hanging in there. He’s starting to hit the ball the other way into the gaps. You know, we all know what kind of talent he has. He’s a five-tool player if healthy. That’s been the main thing thus far.”
Heyward had a big night, including two hits and a walk. He led off the third inning by hustling for a triple to the right-center gap, then scored on Simmons’ groundout to cut the Yankees’ lead to 2-1.
But it was his throw that had everyone talking afterward.
“Right there it was do or die,” Heyward said. “It was still a close game. That’s what you want to do. You want to put yourself in position to be able to make that throw on ball hit in front of you.”
When the first question in Gonzalez’s postgame press briefing was about Kimbrel’s ninth inning, Gonzalez looked surprised and paused before answering: “Well we wouldn’t have gotten there if it wasn’t for Jason Heyward, you know?”
The Braves scored two runs in the fourth inning to take the lead, and could have had more. Martin Prado had a leadoff single and Freddie Freeman drew a two-out walk before Jones hit a two-out RBI double past Teixeira and down the right-field line.
Heyward walked and Simmons hit an RBI single to center that looked like it would bring home two runs. But after Freeman scored on the play, Heyward was thrown out at third before Jones crossed home plate, erasing that potential run. The Braves had to settle for a 3-2 lead, and it wouldn’t last long.
The Yankees tied the score with an unearned run in the bottom of the inning after errors by corner infielders Freeman and Jones. Ibanez reached on the one-out fielding error by Freeman, in his first game back in the lineup after missing five games with a finger injury.
One walk and one strikeout later, Russell Martin hit a hard grounder that shot past third baseman Jones and into the left-field corner, bringing in the tying run.
“My bullpen did pick me up,” Hudson said. “The defense has been great behind me all year. There were a couple of plays – rocket to Chipper; I’m wondering if that’s really an error or not. Freddie’s a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman, so that’s kind of a flukey thing that he didn’t make that play. But it is what it is. You’ve just got to make pitches, and luckily it didn’t cost us the game.”
Derek Jeter, who seemed to have every close ball-strike call go his way all night, drew a two-out walk to load the bases before Hudson struck out Granderson, who leads the Yankees with 21 homers.
Venters gave up a hit and walk to start the seventh inning, and Robinson’s Cano’s groundout put two in scoring position. But Teixeira hit a fielder’s choice grounder to Jones, who made a nice play and threw home for the out. Venters struck out Ibanez to end the inning.