From a physical perspective, the Braves feel fortunate that Kawakami seemingly only suffered a bruise, courtesy of the Joba Chamberlain third-inning line drive that felled him in front of a raucous crowd at Turner Field on Wednesday night.
But the adverse effects of Kawakami's early exit were clearly visible while the Yankees awoke from their offensive slumber to claim an 8-4 win over the Braves, who were left feeling somewhat helpless on a night when they couldn't utilize their top three relievers.
"It was very weird," Braves catcher Brian McCann said after seeing his team's two-game winning streak erased. "It just seemed like the ball didn't bounce our way tonight."
Coming off back-to-back shutout victories, the Braves gained an early lead with Jeff Francoeur's fifth-inning solo homer and found themselves bidding for a perfect game before the Yankees erupted for a three-run sixth inning against Kris Medlen, who was forced into emergency action when Kawakami departed after the third inning.
While the Yankees gained their first lead in the sixth inning and increased it during each of the next three innings, the Braves were left to wonder how things might have been different if they could have been able to call upon relievers Peter Moylan or Mike Gonzalez, who were deemed unavailable after pitching each of the three previous days.
Moylan's absence was felt during the sixth inning, when Medlen exited with the bases loaded and two outs. Instead of utilizing the Australian right-hander, the Braves were forced to call upon Jeff Bennett to challenge Alex Rodriguez, who brought the crowd to a frenzy when he fouled off two of the first three pitches during the at-bat.
As Braves and Yankees fans attempted to drown each other out, Rodriguez delivered an 0-2 fastball into center field for a go-ahead two-run single off Bennett, who has now issued two walks and surrendered three hits during the 13 occasions that he's faced a batter with the bases loaded this year.
"We make one bad pitch with the bases loaded and an 0-2 count," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "The ball drifted back right over the middle of the plate. That started it."
Bennett allowed the Yankees to increase their lead to 4-1 with Nick Swisher's seventh-inning leadoff homer. But the Braves cut that lead behind a two-run seventh on Martin Prado's pinch-hit RBI single and Nate McLouth's long sacrifice fly that took Swisher to the right-field wall. However, Atlanta's sense of hope was diminished when Eric O'Flaherty gave two runs back in the top of the eighth.
While the Braves felt O'Flaherty could have escaped the eighth inning unscathed had Robinson Cano been charged with interference while running to first base, the left-handed reliever knew he was partly to blame when his inability to race to first base in time allowed Johnny Damon to reach with a leadoff infield single.
After an intentional walk to A-Rod loaded the bases, Cano hit a grounder to first baseman Casey Kotchman that had the makings of being a double play until McCann's throw hit the Yankees second baseman in the left shoulder and went into the right field, allowing Mark Teixeira to score.
"I didn't really have a good angle, and I'm not sure about the rule," O'Flaherty said. "But the two guys that had the best angle, McCann and [second baseman Kelly] Johnson, seemed pretty upset with the call."
Not provided the interference ruling that he argued for, Cox was forced to watch the Yankees add another run when Swisher followed with an RBI groundout. These two runs proved to be crucial when Francoeur capped his two-hit game with an eighth-inning RBI single off Brian Bruney.
Francoeur's single prompted the entry of Mariano Rivera, who struck out each of the four batters he faced to notch his 16th save, the 498th of his career.
Making just his second appearance of the month and first since June 14, Medlen kept the perfect-game bid alive until he issued a sixth-inning leadoff walk to Brett Gardner, who was promptly picked off at first base. With an ensuing argument that led to his ejection, Yankees manager Joe Girardi seemed to wake up his club, which hadn't recorded a hit over the eight previous innings against the Braves.
Moments after Girardi took a step closer to Cox's all-time ejections record, Francisco Cervelli ended the Yanks' hitless skid with a solo homer that ignited the three-run sixth and the Bombers' previously slumbering offense.
"I think our club has too many good hitters to stay in a slump," Girardi said. "Bobby has done it a lot. It's probably worked for his club, so maybe I took a page out of his book."