LOS ANGELES – When Chipper Jones made up his mind to retire after the 2012 season, he hoped it would be a big year for the Braves with him contributing plenty to the success.
So far, the future Hall of Famer is getting what he hoped for, albeit with a bit more knee pain and swelling than he’d prefer.
Jones drove in the winning run in a stirring ninth-inning comeback late Wednesday at Dodger Stadium, where the Braves scored three runs on five consecutive singles off Dodgers closer Javy Guerra to pull off a 4-2 win that capped one of their best West Coast trips in years.
“That was a big one, to come in here and take two from those guys,” said Braves reliever Jonny Venters (2-0), who struck out the side in the eighth inning. “They’re playing great — the best in the West. It was exciting.”
The game-winning RBI for Jones came a day after he homered on his 40th birthday in Tuesday’s 4-3 win against the Dodgers, who were previously unbeaten at home.
The Braves finished a 5-2 trip with a flourish and improved to 12-3 since Jones came off the disabled list.
“It’s a testament to our team,” said first baseman Freddie Freeman, who began the ninth-inning rally with a one-out single. “We keep going from the first through the ninth.”
Catcher Brian McCann said, “That’s what you’ve got to do to beat good teams like this. You’ve got to hang close, then have a big inning. And ours was in the ninth. This was huge, to win two out of three here. This was an amazing road trip.”
The Braves won both night nights in the ninth inning against Guerra, and Jones showed uncharacteristic emotion Wednesday after his ninth-inning hit and Jason Heyward’s subsequent RBI single that pushed the lead to 4-2.
“I was like a schoolkid out there,” Jones said. “That’s what you play the game for.”
Asked where it might rank among his baseball memories, he smiled and said, “That’s way up there. I’ll remember that for a long time. I’ll remember that hit, I’ll remember that inning, I’ll remember the last play of the game. It’s just a storybook. That’s the only way I can describe it.”
It was his last scheduled visit to Dodger Stadium, which Jones called “my Yankee Stadium” while growing up a Dodger-loving kid in Florida. That fandom came from his dad, Larry Sr., whose hometown of Vero Beach, Fla., was the Dodgers’ longtime spring training home.
The Dodgers paid tribute to Jones’ career on the video board and with accompanying message on the stadium P.A. system after the third inning Tuesday. There was respectful applause from fans who had booed him, as usual, when he came to bat in the second inning.
An inning after that tribute Tuesday, he hit a home run for the Braves’ first run. The Braves won the two games that Jones played in Los Angeles, after losing Monday in the game he sat out with pain in his surgically repaired left knee.
After Martin Prado’s two-out ninth-inning triple drove in the winning run Tuesday, the Braves ratcheted up the drama Wednesday with a ninth-inning flurry that shocked the crowd and Guerra, who was fortunate to escape serious injury when struck on the right side of his jaw by McCann’s line-drive hit.
McCann hit a foul ball in a 2010 spring training game that struck Braves minor league manager Luis Salazar in the face, damaging his left eye so extensively that it had to be removed.
When Guerra stayed in the game after being checked by a Dodgers trainer, no one was more relieved than McCann.
“Oh, man, I told a couple of guys he’s my new favorite player,” McCann said. “I mean, it didn’t even faze him. I hit it as hard as I possibly could, and I don’t think it even hit his glove. And for him to get up and pitch … I don’t think too many guys would want to mess with him.”
Dan Uggla was up next and singled to drive in the tying run. Jones’ hit through the right side on an 0-and-2 count put the Braves ahead.
They are 9-2 in games that Jones has played and 3-5 in games he did not, including an 0-4 start when he was on the disabled list recovering from March 26 arthroscopic knee surgery.
He came off the DL for the fifth game at Houston and hit a two-run homer to lead the Braves to their first win – a day after the Astros paid tribute and ex-Houston star Craig Biggio presented Jones with a Stetson cowboy hat at home plate.
“It’s been one highlight after another,” Jones said of the opening weeks of his final season, “and man, I’m savoring each and every one of them. Because you never know when the next one is going to come.”
Since coming off the DL, Jones started nine games and pinch-hit in two others. He rested entirely for four games, including back-to-back games after the flight from Houston when he had to have fluid drained from the knee.
“I think the way they’re using Chip is great,” McCann said. “Give him his rest, because we’ve got guys who can fill in for him. And we need him fresh as many games as possible. I think they’ve done an unbelievable job keeping him fresh for games.”
Jones played the middle two games of the four-game series at Arizona, missing the opener with swelling after the long flight to Phoenix. The Braves hoped that with an off day in the schedule Thursday, even if there was more swelling after the overnight flight from Los Angeles, he might be ready to play Friday’s series opener against Pittsburgh to start a seven-game homestand.
It’s the first of a seven-game homestand that includes four games against the Pirates and three against Philadelphia.