Friday, October 5, 2012
Chipper has forgettable farewell in playoff loss
ATLANTA -- Chipper Jones didn't want to go out this way.
The Atlanta Braves third baseman made a crucial throwing error and never hit a ball out of the infield Friday, his brilliant career ending with a 6-3 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in a wild-card game that turned messy when fans littered the field after a disputed call by the umpires.
Don't blame the umps, Jones said.
"I'm the one to blame."
In the fourth inning, with the Braves leading 2-0 on David Ross' homer, Carlos Beltran blooped a single to right for the first hit of the game off Kris Medlen. But the Braves got what they needed from Matt Holliday, a hard-hit grounder to third base that Jones fielded with a nifty backhanded grab.
"A tailor-made double play" he called it.
Only one problem. Jones' throw to second base sailed over the head of Dan Uggla, rolling out into right field. The Cardinals wound up scoring three runs and led the rest of the way.
Turns out, that was only ball Jones got out of the infield all night. He went 1 for 5 at the plate, getting a generous call from the official scorer on his final at-bat -- a grounder to second baseman Daniel Descalso, whose leaping throw to first pulled Allen Craig off the bag. He couldn't get hit foot on the bag ahead of the 40-year-old Jones, hustling until the end.
He lumbered around to third on Freddie Freeman's ground-rule double, but that was where his career ended.
Uggla grounded out to end the Braves' season -- and a big league career that started in 1993. Jones spent it all with the Braves, wining a World Series title in '95, an MVP award in '99, and an NL batting crown four years ago. He'll go down as one of the greatest-switch hitters in baseball history, finishing with 468 homers and a .303 average.
Jones was just crossing home plate as the Cardinals began their celebration. He kept right on running toward the dugout.
It was over.
"I wanted to come out here and play well," Jones said. "My heart is broken not for me. My heard is broken for my teammates and my coaching staff, and all these fans that have been so great to us this year."
Jones drove to Turner Field for the final time as a player with his mother, father and two of his young sons.
He was amazed how calm he felt.
"I turned around and told my dad, `This is why I know I'm ready to go. I'm not even nervous," Jones said before the game, with 8-year-old Shea and 7-year-old Tristan standing nearby, both wearing red Braves jerseys.
But Jones sure looked shaky on that throw, which ruined what should have been another scoreless inning for Medlen.
Jones, who announced his retirement in spring training, had envisioned plenty of ways his career might end.
"This is not one of them, I can assure you that," he said. "It's just one of those things that happens from time to time. You have a game defensively where you don't make plays that you should. You give good teams extra outs and it ends up biting you."
The Braves made two more throwing errors in the seventh, handing the Cardinals three runs and a 6-2 lead without getting a ball out of the infield.
Atlanta attempted to rally in the eighth, putting two runners aboard with one out. Andrelton Simmons appeared to load the bases when his pop fly to short left field dropped on a mix-up between two fielders, but the umpires called him out on the infield fly rule. That enraged the crowd of 52,631, which littered the field with debris and caused a 19-minute delay.
Jones watched the ugly display from the safety of the Braves dugout.
"Momma didn't raise no fool," he quipped. "You never want to see something get violent like that. I know one thing for sure -- you won't be able to say that Braves fans don't care."
Batting cleanup, Jones had a forgettable night at the plate. He struck out in the first. He grounded out with a runner aboard to end the third. He led off the sixth with a popup. He grounded out with runners at second and third to end the seventh, squandering a chance to pull the Braves within a run.
Finally, he came up in the ninth with two outs and no one aboard.
Before stepping into the box, Jones pulled off his helmet and used it to salute the crowd, most of whom hung around to see his last swing.
"Chipper! Chipper! Chipper!" they roared.
When it was done, a small batch of fans remained behind the Braves dugout, keeping up the chant in hopes Jones might come out for one last curtain call.
He never did.
It was over.
"I'll be OK," Jones said. "When you walk out of here knowing that you brought it every day, it makes walking away on the final day a little bit easier."
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