ATLANTA — Evan Gattis just keeps coming through for the Atlanta Braves.
The rookie hit a two-out, pinch-hit homer in the ninth to send the game to extra innings and Freddie Freeman won it in the 10th, sending the Braves to their fifth consecutive win, 5-4 over the slumping Minnesota Twins on Tuesday night.
Freeman blooped a two-out single off Brian Duensing (0-1) to bring home Jason Heyward, handing the Twins their seventh consecutive loss.
But Gattis was the talk of the clubhouse after his third pinch-hit homer of the season – and second in four days.
“I’m kind of getting used to it,” he said with a shrug.
His teammates were left shaking their heads.
“It’s awesome to see,” said Braves starter Tim Hudson, who worked five solid innings despite a lengthy rain delay. “People around the league are scratching their heads, trying to figure out how to make sure he doesn’t put the ball in the seats.”
Gattis, who surprisingly made the team as a non-roster player, has been a key contributor all season. He was NL Rookie of the Month in April, getting plenty of starts while the Braves battled a string of injuries. Now, with all the regulars healthy, he’s showing what he can do off the bench. It was his ninth homer of the season, four of which have been tying or go-ahead shots in the eighth inning or later.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” Freeman said. “It’s incomprehensible.”
Duensing got the first two hitters in the 10th, but Heyward doubled off the wall in left-center. Justin Upton was intentionally walked before Freeman came through on a 3-2 pitch for his second RBI of the game.
“It wasn’t the prettiest swing,” Freeman said, “but it got the job done.”
Gattis was looking for a pinch over the inside part of the plate.
He got just what he was looking for on an 0-1 slider from Twins closer Glen Perkins, sending a drive deep into the left-field seats.
“I was trying to hit the ball hard,” Gattis said. “I don’t try to hit home runs. It just happened.”
Craig Kimbrel (1-1) worked a scoreless 10th for the win.
Trevor Plouffe and Ryan Doumit had RBI singles in the eighth against the depleted Atlanta bullpen, giving the Twins a 4-3 lead. They were one out away from snapping their slide, but Perkins couldn’t finish the job.
“I think he guessed right,” Perkins said. “You’ve got to make good pitches. That guy, he’s up there to do one thing, and he did it.”
Brian McCann homered and drove in two runs for the Braves, while Hudson pitched around a 1-hour, 26-minute rain delay – but they were afterthoughts in light of the dramatic comeback.
The Braves bullpen, which lost two key relievers to season-ending surgeries in the past week, surrendered the lead in the eighth. Luis Avilan retired only one batter, giving up a hit and a walk.
Plouffe tied the game at 3 with a slow roller off Cory Gearrin that got through the hole between first and second. Doumit followed with another hit to right, this one much sharper, to put the Twins ahead.
“We made a nice comeback to get back in the game,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Our bullpen did just a super job of shutting everything down.”
Until the end, that is.
“A tough one,” Gardenhire conceded.
Hudson gave up five hits and two runs while striking out five. He bounced back from two rough starts, having allowed 11 runs in 8⅔ innings in losses at San Francisco and Arizona.
Anthony Swarzak pitched four solid innings in relief of Minnesota starter Mike Pelphrey, who gave up two runs in the first and was lifted after a fierce storm suddenly popped up with the Twins batting in the third. The umpires wasted no time calling for the ground crew, which struggled to get the tarp over the infield amid blinding rain and whipping winds.
Then, as the storm began to break almost as quickly as it appeared, a power surge knocked out the lights and video board at Turner Field. The board came back on in a matter of seconds, but the lights took much longer to fire back up.
Hudson was ready to go.
“That was at least Double-A lighting,” he quipped. “The kids in the bushes do it. Why can’t we?”
With the field fully lit, Hudson quickly gave up an RBI single to Justin Morneau, tying the game at 2.
Leading off the fourth, McCann lined a pitch off Swarzak into the right-field seats that put the Braves back on top. Anthony Varvaro threw two scoreless innings for the Braves, but a bullpen that will have to do without Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty the rest of the season couldn’t hold the lead.
Turns out, that just set things up for another turn at hero by Gattis.
“When I saw him going up there to hit,” said Freeman, who also had an RBI double in the first, “I had a feeling we were going to be playing a little longer.”