A week ago, Jonny Venters contributed to the Yankees’ 10-game winning streak by failing to properly locate a sinker and giving up a grand slam to Alex Rodriguez.
So when he appeared in the seventh inning of a one-run game Tuesday night, many were wondering if something similar would happen to turn the game into the Yankees’ 11th straight victory.
Venters succeeded this time, stranding runners at second and third, and the Yankees were handed a 4-3 loss by the Braves to end their longest winning streak in seven years.
“You come in and face one of the best lineups in the game,” Venters said. “There’s no easy out in their lineup and if you do take a pitch off, they’re going to make you pay for it. They’re playing good baseball right now. They don’t give up and they fight to the end.”
Venters threw 22 pitches during the pivotal seventh when it seemed that at any moment, the Yankees would produce a big hit. Venters allowed a line-drive single to Curtis Granderson on his first pitch and then walked Rodriguez on five pitches.
“No, you can’t think like that,” Venters said when asked if he was worried about getting out of the jam. “You have to stay positive. I feel like if I make my pitches, I’m going to get outs, but the way it’s been going lately, it’s been rough. But I never felt like it was something I couldn’t get out of. But I was lucky enough to put up a zero.”
With the crowd anticipating a big hit from Robinson Cano, Venters retired the second baseman on a first-pitch ground out to first base. He worked a full count on Mark Teixeira, but got the second out on a ground ball to Chipper Jones, who threw out Granderson at the plate.
Venters’ best trick was next. He appeared to get a borderline outside pitch for strike two and then followed it by getting Raul Ibanez to swing at a slider in a similar location.
“Jonny continues to walk the tight rope,” Jones said. “He made the pitches when he had to and ended up getting out of the inning. I’d still like to see him string together some clean innings -- no walks, no hits and things like that. But we’ll take it tonight.”
“He’s been having some tough times and I was glad to see him get out there and navigated through those guys,” Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “He got a big punch out to end the inning there.”
It was a complete turnaround from last Tuesday when Venters threw 19 pitches and gave up three hits and a walk as Atlanta blew a four-run lead.
“I was just glad to go out there, put a zero up and help my team win,” Venters said. “It wasn’t pretty but Chipper made a great play at third. It’s good to get out of a jam. I haven’t been doing that a lot lately. Once guys get on I haven’t been [good]. I was fortunate or lucky, whatever you want to call it, to get it done.”
While Venters walked a fine line, the rest of Atlanta’s bullpen made it seamless.
Eric O’Flaherty retired Russell Martin on a double play to end the eighth. Craig Kimbrel struck out Derek Jeter on a 99 mph fastball, fanned Granderson on a fastball clocked at 98 mph and ended it by getting Alex Rodriguez to pop up another 98 mph fastball.
“I thought today our bullpen bent a little bit but didn’t break and showed some signs of the bullpen of last year,” Gonzalez said. “It’s tough to hold a one-run lead in this ballpark against that lineup and we did it.”
Innings like the seventh were a recurring theme in the Yankees’ first loss since June 7 and just their fifth in 25 games since May 21. They scored twice in the second on Nick Swisher’s double and again in the fourth on a Jones fielding error.
But after Jones couldn’t handle Russell Martin’s ground ball, Granderson left the bases loaded by striking out. An inning later, the Yankees had two on when Swisher singled, but Jason Heyward made a strong throw from right field to nail Teixeira at the plate.
“Swisher hits a rocket; I get thrown out at home,” Teixeira said. “You almost wish he didn’t hit that hard.”
It was those types of breaks the Yankees were getting during their last 10 games and a 2-for-11 night with runners in scoring position brought up the old questions of hitting in the clutch.
“Winning takes care of a lot of things,” Martin said. “It’s going to take a turn.”
While the Yankees could not extend the 29th double-digit winning streak in franchise history, they kept another streak intact. Hiroki Kuroda pitched seven innings, allowing four runs and six hits for the 19th straight game in which a Yankee starter pitched at least six.
Kuroda contributed to the longest streak for the team since 1981 by starting off quickly before struggling in the fourth, allowing an RBI double to Jones and a run-scoring single to Andrelton Simmons. He also gave up a single to Jason Heyward, who hit a hard ground ball off Teixeira’s left heel that scored Brian McCann.
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.