Gattis grand slam leads Braves past Twins 8-3
ATLANTA (AP) — Evan Gattis no longer seems amazed by his improbable rookie season.
Yet, there are still times when it’s a bit of an adjustment for the Atlanta Braves catcher.
Like when someone recognizes him in the grocery store.
“It’s a little weird,” the 26-year-old Gattis said. “I’m not used to that yet.”
Gattis did it again Wednesday, hitting his first career grand slam. B.J. Upton and Ramiro Pena also homered for the Braves, who finished off a sweep of the woeful Minnesota Twins with an 8-3 rout.
The Braves stretched their winning streak to six games with a second straight series sweep, making things easy for starter Paul Maholm (6-4). The left-hander held the Twins to an unearned run in 7 1-3 innings.
With the Braves already leading 4-0, Gattis struck again less than 24 hours after his two-out, pinch-homer in the ninth allowed the Braves to pull out a 5-4 win over the Twins in extra innings.
“It’s legend,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “Good for him. The guys really rally around him and enjoy being around him.”
Gattis was swinging away on a 3-0 pitch with the bases loaded in the fourth and launched an opposite-field drive just inside the right-field pole for his 10th homer of the season.
As Gattis rounded the bases, the theme from “The Natural” played over the speakers at Turner Field.
In the Atlanta dugout, Upton looked on in disbelief, both arms in the air as if to say, “Is this really happening?”
Gattis made the team as a non-roster player in spring training after quitting baseball during college, working a variety of odd jobs, and dealing with bouts of depression that had him contemplating suicide. He still has a picture of his ID card from working as a janitor on his Twitter page.
He returned to baseball after nearly four years away, having completed what he calls a spiritual journey. He earned a roster spot and got extensive playing time in April while the Braves battled injuries, earning the NL rookie of the month honors.
Now, with all the regulars back in the lineup, he’s making the most of his more limited chances in May.
There was one stumble on the day, however.
After Cory Rasmus, making his major league debut, got his first strikeout, Gattis flipped the ball to a little girl in the stands.
“We’ve got to teach him a little more court awareness,” Gonzalez quipped.
Not surprisingly, Gattis’ teammates were ragging him about the faux pas in the clubhouse.
“I wasn’t even thinking about it,” he said, shaking his head. “I don’t know what to say.”
Gattis’ dramatic homer Tuesday was his third as a pinch-hitter, and it was the fourth time he’s hit a tying or go-ahead homer in the eighth inning or later. He got the start at catcher for the series finale, giving Brian McCann the day off.
“I love this team,” Gattis said. “All of our pitchers, relievers, everybody in the whole lineup, we all contribute, we’ve all got roles, we’ve all got things we do to help this team. It’s a good feeling right now in the clubhouse. We’re playing good baseball.”
The Twins, not so much. They lost their eighth in a row and demoted starting pitcher Vance Worley to the minors right after the game.
Worley (1-5) lasted only 3 2-3 innings, surrendering eight runs and 10 hits. He also hit two batters and walked two more, his ERA climbing to 7.21. It would have been worse if Pena had not been thrown out at the plate in the first attempting to score on a flyout to left fielder Josh Willingham.
“I went out there and I left the ball up just a little bit. My ERA’s killing me. It’s hard to win a game if you’re behind,” said Worley, who was sent to Triple-A Rochester.
“They haven’t seen what I’m capable of doing ever since I got here. It’s been a battle and I’ve just got to figure it out. This whole spring up to this point, I haven’t been consistent whatsoever.”
Before leaving, Worley’s horrendous problems in the first continued when he allowed two hits and a walk, including Jason Heyward’s run-scoring single. In 10 starts, the right-hander has allowed 17 runs and 24 hits in the opening inning.
Atlanta made it 3-0 in the third. Pena hit his second homer of the season and, after Worley plunked a pair of hitters, Chris Johnson came through with a two-out single to bring in another run.
The Braves blew it open in the fourth. Upton, hitting just .153 coming in, led off with a homer into the seats in left-center. After Maholm’s flyout, Jordan Schafer singled, Heyward singled, Freddie Freeman walked and Gattis went deep to finish off Worley and the Twins.
“He said he felt good. The ball was coming out of his hand pretty decent,” manager Ron Gardenhire said of his pitcher. “We saw some fastballs at 92, 93. But ultimately, he misfires too much over the plate and you see the ball flying. And that’s what happened today. When he gets the ball up, they whack it pretty good.”
Minnesota’s only run off Maholm came after Johnson’s error at third base set up Justin Morneau’s RBI single in the sixth.
Aaron Hicks and pinch-hitter Oswaldo Arcia homered in the ninth off Rasmus, making his major league debut.
NOTES: The Twins placed 3B Trevor Plouffe on the seven-day DL with a concussion. He took a blow to the head in the 10th inning of Tuesday night’s game while breaking up an attempted double play. ... Minnesota called up former independent league star Chris Colabello, who was batting .358 at Triple-A Rochester and leading the International League with 12 homers and a .659 slugging percentage. Colabello got the news after midnight on a bus ride from Allentown back to Rochester, just made an early morning flight to Atlanta and was in the lineup for the 12:10 p.m. start, playing right field and batting sixth. He went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts in his major league debut at age 30. ... The Braves already have swept five series this season. ... Rasmus is the younger brother of Toronto OF Colby Rasmus.
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