Braves rookie sensation Evan Gattis was poised and ready at the plate Wednesday afternoon, working with a 3-0 count and the bases loaded. The question was, when the next pitch came over the plate, where was he going to put it?
Over the right-field wall was Gattis’ answer. He hit an opposite-field home run on the next pitch for the first grand slam of his remarkable young career. He doubled the Braves’ run total with one swing and helped the Braves pound the Twins 8-3 on Wednesday to complete a three-game sweep and a perfect 6-0 homestand.
The manager who had no qualms giving Gattis the green light on 3-0 had to do a little marveling.
“That’s the second time this year I’ve seen a 3-0 grand slam the opposite way for a right-handed hitter,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “(Miguel) Cabrera in Detroit and then (Gattis) here. We are not making any comparisons, by any means, but that’s the sign of a good hitter where he (lets the ball) travel and to have enough juice to hit it to the opposite field.”
Gonzalez is trying not to get carried away in hyperbole — American League Triple Crown winner references aside — but shortly after in his postgame news conference, Gonzalez called Gattis’ story the stuff of legend. It’s hard to argue that point.
Gattis hit three home runs — a game-winner, a game-tying shot to force extra innings and a grand slam — in one six-game homestand. And he didn’t even start a game in that span until Wednesday.
The Braves began this homestand looking for creative ways to keep three catchers on the roster when Jason Heyward returned from the disabled list. Left-hander Paul Maholm had to do Wednesday what the rest of the Braves’ starting staff has done ever since — make an effort to work deeper into the game with a short-handed bullpen. Maholm threw a season-high 112 pitches and pitched into the eighth inning, allowing one unearned run.
“The two broken-bat singles kind of ended for me,” Maholm said of one-out singles by Josh Willingham and Justin Morneau in the eighth. “But I’m going to do everything I can to try to take care of the bullpen.”
The Braves are willing to go short even in light of season-ending elbow injuries to both Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty. It’s easy to see why.
Just 12 hours after Gattis’ two-out pinch-hit home run in the ninth inning forced extra innings Tuesday night against the Twins, he had something special in store Wednesday afternoon.
Gattis turned a 3-0 fastball from Vance Worley into another souvenir. His 10th home run of the season tied him for the fifth most in the National League. It was his first to right field. The ball landed between the outfield fence and the cutout in the right-field stands — a mere chip shot by Gattis standards.
“It went out,” Gattis said. “It counts.”