Jason Giambi (90) brings all firepower needed

YANKEES 5, BRAVES 2

BY BOB HERZOG
Newsday Staff Writer

Published June 27 2006

When Jason Giambi stepped into the batter’s box against the Braves’ Tim Hudson last night, he was facing an old Oakland Athletics teammate. When Andruw Jones stepped in against Randy Johnson, he was facing an old nemesis.

But sometimes baseball is like studying for a test. You think you know a lot but you don’t always have the right answers.

“It definitely helps to know him. You know what he features,” said Giambi, who drilled a two-run homer in the first inning and a three-run shot in the second for all the Yankees’ offense in a 5-2 victory over Atlanta.

“It’s not splitting the atom out there. I know him. He knows me,” Johnson said of his key duel with Jones in the sixth. The Braves had two on and two outs when Johnson snapped off a sharp 88-mph slider that Jones swung over to strike out the side. That brought a sellout crowd of 54,226 – Sunday night’s empty house clearly was a fluke – to its feet as Johnson punctuated the punchout with a fist-pumping gesture.

That was the Braves’ only serious threat until Chipper Jones hit a two-run homer off Scott Proctor in the ninth, forcing Joe Torre to summon Mariano Rivera for a two-out save, his 17th.

Giambi not only provided the Yankees with a 5-0 lead with his 21st and 22nd homers of the season but also gave Johnson a comfort zone. The Big Unit had not pitched since last Monday while serving a five-game suspension for throwing at Cleveland’s Eduardo Perez on June 14.

“To be honest, I wasn’t sure how I’d pitch. The rest seemed like forever,” said Johnson, who raised his record to 9-6 with seven scoreless innings in which he allowed four hits, no walks and a season-high nine strikeouts. “I was pleasantly surprised to be in such command of all my pitches. After about the third inning, I threw my fastball, slider and splitter for strikes.

Hudson wasn’t as fortunate. After retiring the first two Yankees, he allowed a single to birthday boy Derek Jeter, who turned 32 yesterday. Giambi then belted a splitter from Hudson (6-7) into the lower deck in right.

In the second inning, Johnny Damon doubled, Jeter walked and with two outs, Giambi battled Hudson to a full count before launching another misplaced splitter into nearly the identical spot. “Jason had a great game. He was all of our offense,” Johnson said. “Any pitcher wants a quick lead.”

Giambi called Hudson, “one of my favorites. He helped turn around the [Oakland] franchise. I got two pitches that were up in the zone and I didn’t miss them.”

“The only thing surprising on the scoreboard is his batting average,” Torre said of Giambi’s .271 mark with 22 homers and 61 RBIs.

“He’s had some great at-bats this season. I still think that when all is said and done, he’ll be at .290.”

Giambi, the designated hitter last night, barely missed a pitch from Hudson in the third inning, flying out to centerfield. There appeared to be an exchange between the two old friends on the infield. “The pitch was in just a little,” Giambi said. “He just laughed. But he’s a competitor, a horse.”

That describes Johnson lately, too. He said he felt good for the past month, saying he thought he pitched well in a loss in Philadelphia last week, when he allowed three runs and five hits in seven innings and struck out seven. He was in command in beating the Indians, allowing only one run on four hits with six strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings before his ejection.

“He seems very comfortable. The key is his presence on the mound,” Torre said. “He had a great seven innings tonight. His command was terrific. He seems to be able to do what he wants do. It seems like it’s familiar to him. He doesn’t have to answer questions about New York or making adjustments.”

Of the more animated version of the Big Unit, who even pointed emphatically at Jorge Posada after the catcher threw out a runner stealing in the second inning, Torre said, “He’s fun to watch.”

Untouchable

Randy Johnson wasn’t perfect last night, but he was nearly as good as he was in his previous start against the Braves. Pitching for the Arizona Diamondbacks, he retired all 27 Atlanta batters he faced on May 18, 2004.=

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