NEW YORK -- Boo that!
He began his joyous trot around the bases by clapping his hands and blowing a kiss to the sky and, with his teammates gathered at home plate for the celebration, Rodriguez flung his batting helmet high in the air.
After Marcus Giles put Atlanta ahead with a solo shot in the top half, Rodriguez finally delivered the big hit those demanding Yankees fans have been clamoring for all month. The highest-paid player in baseball has been booed constantly during a difficult June, and it was beginning to wear him down.
"That's the fans' privilege," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "We don't pay the fans' salary. But right now, the fans love him to death.
"Every time he goes to the plate, I expect him to do something big, and he did now. It's just the feeling you have with the kind of ability he has. Everybody is on his shoulders. He understands his responsibility to the ballclub. I think we felt good for him first, and then the ballgame."
Rodriguez was thrilled with the turnaround.
"I was happy," he said. "We needed that. I needed that. I was excited. I know the boys are waiting on me. The boys know what I can do and I was happy to come through for them."
Rodriguez, the 2005 AL MVP, was the league's player of the month in May when he batted .330 with eight homers and 28 RBI. But he struggled terribly in June and was locked in a 2-for-20 slump before he connected on a 3-1 pitch from Jorge Sosa (2-10) following a walk to Jason Giambi with one out.
It was Rodriguez's 16th homer of the season, the 445th of his career, and his 100th in a Yankees uniform.
Ron Villone (1-1) escaped a bases-loaded jam in the top of the 12th to keep New York within one. Giambi homered earlier for the Yankees, and Rodriguez finished with three RBI.
Giambi tied the game for New York in the eighth with his 23rd homer on the first pitch he saw from reliever Ken Ray. It was the sixth time the Braves' bullpen has blown a lead in games started by John Smoltz.
Giles hit his fifth home run on a 3-2 pitch from Scott Proctor, but the struggling Braves dropped two of three in the series to fall to 5-21 in June.
What began as a tense pitchers' duel between Smoltz and New York's Chien-Ming Wang turned into a battle of the bullpens -- a weakness all season for the Braves.
"The bullpen was outstanding except for two pitches," manager Bobby Cox said. "That's how we lose one-run games. That's how it happens.
"Everything was coming together and then you lose a game like that. It's a ballgame. We play again (Friday). We'll be ready."
Smoltz, who came out of his previous start Friday in the second inning with a strained right groin, lasted seven innings this time and left with a 2-1 lead.
"The leg kept me cautious," he said. "I stayed back on the mound. I have to put us in a position to win, which I did. I was a hair away from no runs. That's the way my season is going."
Trailing 2-0, the Yankees nicked Smoltz for a run in the sixth.
Singles by Melky Cabrera and Giambi gave New York runners at first and third with one out. Rodriguez hit a ball up the middle that deflected off Smoltz to Giles at second for an RBI groundout.
An inning later, Andy Phillips led off with a triple. Smoltz got Cairo on a grounder and then shortstop Edgar Renteria robbed pinch-hitter Jorge Posada of a hit with a diving grab of his line drive. Johnny Damon walked before Smoltz struck out Cabrera to end the inning and his day.
The right-hander allowed six hits, struck out five and walked two, throwing 73 of his 110 pitches for strikes. He retired 10 of 11 batters during one stretch.
Atlanta took the lead in the fourth against Wang.
Renteria opened with a double and scored on a double by Andruw Jones.
The Braves added to their lead with two outs in the sixth on consecutive singles by Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones and Brian McCann.
- Derek Jeter's first-inning double was his 220th hit in interleague games. He leads all players in that department.
- Smoltz and Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley are the only pitchers in history with 150 wins and 150 saves.
- Wang worked at least seven innings for the fifth straight start.