"Every time he goes to the plate, I expect him to do something big -- and he did," said manager Joe Torre. "It's a feeling you have when you know what kind of ability he has. Eventually, something good is going to happen."
A-Rod's home run, his 16th, gave the Yankees their sixth win in the last eight games, lifting their record to 8-7 in Interleague Play. The Yankees host the Mets this weekend for three games to close out their Interleague schedule.
It was Rodriguez's fifth career walk-off homer and his 100th homer as a Yankee. A team official retrieved the ball and gave it to Rodriguez after the game.
As important as the home run was for the reigning American League MVP, it was equally as important for the Yankees. With the first-place Red Sox riding a 10-game winning streak after Tuesday's win over the Mets, the Yankees knew they had to keep pace or risk falling 4 1/2 games behind Boston.
"It felt good for everyone," Derek Jeter said of Rodriguez's game-winner. "We need to win, man. It was only a matter of time for him. It was a big win for us."
The Yankees were down to their final two outs after Marcus Giles had homered off Scott Proctor in the top of the 12th. Jason Giambi worked a walk with one out in the 12th, bringing A-Rod to the plate, representing the winning run.
Rodriguez worked the count to 3-1 before blasting his long ball to seal the win. As the ball sailed over the left-field fence, A-Rod flipped his bat and looked toward the Yankees' dugout with his hands in the air as if to say, "How about that?"
"I know the boys are waiting on me," Rodriguez said. "The boys know what I can do, and it was like, 'Finally, I picked the boys up.'"
"I can certainly understand his emotions there," Torre said. "I think we all felt good for him first, then the game second. With the enormity of this home run, he did it in a huge situation for us, so that's a huge question that has been answered.
"You could see the players in the dugout, and when he hit the home run, it was like everyone was saying, 'There it is!'" added Torre. "It's like we all knew it was coming, except we've been feeling like this for a couple of weeks."
The boos that had been showered upon him all day -- and all month, for that matter -- instantly turned to cheers. A-Rod hopes that the homer can help erase all of the baggage he has been carrying for the past few weeks.
"For me, it does," Rodriguez said. "Hopefully that's behind me."
"Fans love him to death right now," Torre said.
Chien-Ming Wang allowed two runs over eight innings, while John Smoltz held the Yankees to one run in seven frames, as the Braves took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the eighth.
The Yankees had a prime opportunity to tie the game against Smoltz after Andy Phillips led off the seventh with his team-leading third triple of the season. After Miguel Cairo grounded out, pinch-hitter Jorge Posada scorched a liner up the middle, but Edgar Renteria made a great catch for the second out.
Johnny Damon walked, putting the go-ahead run on base, but Smoltz got Melky Cabrera to chase a ball out of the zone for strike three, stranding Phillips at third.
"We scuffled a little bit; we had our opportunities," Jeter said. "Smoltz knows what he's doing out there."
Smoltz left the game after seven, turning the lead over to Kenny Ray. The lead lasted for only one more out, as Giambi lofted the first pitch he saw off the upper deck in right field, tying the game with his 23rd home run.
Ray walked A-Rod and Bernie Williams, putting the go-ahead run in scoring position, but Chad Paronto came in from the bullpen and struck out Phillips and Cairo, sending the tie game to the ninth. The Yankees had the winning run on second base with two outs in the ninth, but Giambi lined out to center, moving the game into extra innings.
Kyle Farnsworth and Mike Myers combined to load the bases in the 11th with two outs, but Proctor needed just one pitch to get Wilson Betemit to pop up to Jeter at shortstop, ending the threat.
One inning later, Proctor served up a one-out, 3-2 pitch that Giles drilled into the left-field seats, putting the Braves in the lead once again.
"Any time you can overcome a screwup like that, it's a good one," Proctor said of A-Rod's eventual game-winner. "We won the game; that's the main thing right now."
Rodriguez, who was riding a 2-for-18 slump before his final at-bat, had taken some good swings during his first five trips to the plate. So when he stepped to the plate in the 12th, he was confident that he could deliver a hit for his team, which he did in a big way.
"I thought all of my swings were good today; that one obviously had the best result," Rodriguez said. "Hopefully it will get me and the team on a roll."
"That was something he needed," Torre said. "Hopefully after enjoying the off-day, we can turn it into something. We certainly need his bat in the lineup."