Already one of the most tumultuous and tantalizing games in recent Braves history, Chipper Jones took it to another level with a walk-off homer in the 11th inning Wednesday night, giving the Braves a 15-13 win against the Philadelphia Phillies at Turner Field.
The 40-year-old third baseman homered off Brian Sanches with none out and got a curtain call after the epic four-hour game, as the Braves snapped an eight-game losing skid against the Phillies in grand fashion.
“That was the most psychotic game I’ve ever been a part of,” said Jones, whose game-ender was the 500th home run of his professional career, including 458 in the major leagues.
After Brian McCann’s grand slam off Roy Halladay punctuated an improbable comeback against one of the best pitchers in a generation, the Phillies stormed back and threatened to break hearts again across Braves Nation.
But these Braves have insisted at every opportunity that they aren’t last year’s Braves and aren’t going to crumble. They backed up the talk, coming back twice from big deficits — six and four runs — before pulling out an exhilarating win.
“For us to fall down 6-nothing to Halladay and come back the way we did, time and time again after falling down, says a lot about this ballclub,” Jones said.
McCann said, “As far as things that you never see, tonight was something you don’t see.”
For the Phillies, the loss was their first since 1969 in a game in which they scored 13 or more runs, snapping a string of 111 consecutive wins meeting that criteria.
“It was just a weird game all the way around,” said McCann, the fourth player ever to hit a grand slam off Halladay, who had not allowed a homer by anyone in 2012. “I’ve never been a part of a game quite like this before….
“We played the Cincinnati game [in 2010] where Brooks Conrad hit a grand slam walk-off. It matches right up there with this one. This one was unbelievable. It had everything you could possibly want.”
After coming back from six down to take an 8-6 lead in the sixth inning, then falling behind again 12-8, the Braves fought back with a five-run eighth to reclaim the lead. But it still wasn’t over.
The Phillies tied the score with a run in the ninth to hand Craig Kimbrel his first blown save of the year, and the Braves had to play beyond nine innings for the first time this season pulled out the win on the latest in what is already a series of memorable moments this year for Jones, who is retiring after the season.
After Dan Uggla led off the 11th with a single, Jones hit a towering would-be homer that sailed about 10 feet to the right of the foul pole. Then — cue the dramatic music — he homered two pitches later to right-center field.
The eldest Brave’s long ball ending the highest-scoring extra-inning game in the National League since the Braves lost 16-13 to the Mets in 19 innings on July 4, 1985.
“You don’t see stuff like that,” McCann said of the balky-kneed team leader’s walk-off blast. “You try to throw a cutter in on him, he pulled his hands in nice. Try to go away from him and he made him pay. What a cool moment that was not only for Chipper but for the rest of us to be able to enjoy that or watch that, to see him walk down the first base line like that.
“That’s a treat for all of us in here. What he’s done for his career. What he’s meant to this organization, to this city. He’s going out this year. That was one of the coolest moments I’ve had on the baseball field.”
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said he’d never seen anything like it in Atlanta in his years as a third-base coach or manager.
“I can’t even describe it,” Gonzalez said of the win. “I don’t even know who started the game. I tell you what, I’m so proud of those guys. Coming from six runs down against Doc Halladay and they battled and battled.
“We scored a six-run inning and a five-run inning and still had to play extra innings. I’m so proud of them. I don’t know where to start. Good for us that we’re smiling today, and happy we got a ‘w’ because there was a lot of weird stuff happening out there. The heart that these guys showed today was terrific.”
McCann’s grand slam capped a six-run fifth inning that erased a seemingly insurmountable deficit against Halladay, and the Braves had as many bases-loaded hits (three) in that one inning as they’d had all season before Wednesday.
Jason Heyward’s two-run single in the sixth put the Braves ahead 8-6 and sent the Turner Field crowd into another round of boisterous chopping and chanting.
The Braves went 7-for-13 with runners in scoring position after going 4-for-36 in the previous four games.
But the Phillies rose from the slab again, and Carlos Ruiz’s three-run homer off reliever Eric O’Flaherty in the seventh gave the Phillies the lead, which they added to when Ruiz hit a three-run double in the eighth off Kris Medlen during another plunge on the rollercoaster ride taken by a crowd of 26,504.
Ruiz had seven RBIs to set a Phillies franchise record for catchers.
The Braves had lost 18 of their past 25 against the Phillies before Wednesday, and for much of the ninth it looked like the mental edge would only grow for the five-time defending NL East champions.
That is, until the Braves mustered another rally in the eighth against Jose Contreras, using two hits, an error and a walk. Tyler Pastornicky had an RBI single off Contreras, and Michael Bourn drew a base-loaded walk after reliever Michael Schwimer entered the fray.
Martin Prado followed with a two-run single to tie, and the crowd was on its feet again, re-energized. Freddie Freeman followed with a sacrifice fly for a 13-12 lead.
After Kimbrel blew the save, the Braves needed two extra innings — their first extra-inning game of the season — before Jones ended it, homering two pitches after he hit a would-be homer that barely sailed wide of the right-field foul pole.
“It’s unbelievable to finish a game like that,” said Pastornicky, a rookie shortstop who had his second three-hit game. “That’s what you dream of as a little kid, to get to be a part of that…. That’s the best game I’ve ever played in my life.
“That’s Chipper. It’s amazing, and it’s cool to be a part of, I can tell you that.”
Prado smiled and said of Jones’ walk-off homer: “I don’t know, man. He has a secret. I’m going to find out.”
The Braves are 11-2 with Jones in the lineup, 4-8 when he’s not started. He missed the first four games of the season while on the disabled list recovering from March 26 knee surgery, and has dealt with recurring fluid in the knee since.
“I wish my knee would have allowed me to be in there more, because I feel like I have the skills to be able to play this game and play it well,” he said. “But unfortunately at 40, my body just doesn’t allow me to sometimes. But when I am in there, I want to make a splash. And I think I did it tonight.”
Braves starter Tommy Hanson lasted just 3-2/3 innings and gave up eight hits and four runs with two walk. He threw 95 pitches and recorded 11 outs. Reliever Cristhian Martinez gave up two more runs in the fifth as the Phillies produced more run support for Halladay than they typically provide for him in three or four games combined.
O’Flaherty gave up three runs on two hits and a walk in the seventh to give him seven earned runs allowed in 8-1/3 innings this season — only one fewer than he allowed in 73-2/3 innings in 2011, when he set a major league record with a 0.98 ERA in 78 appearances.
Halladay gave up 12 hits and eight earned runs in 5-1/3 innings, his worst start in five years.
“Everybody put together good ABs,” McCann said of the rally against Halladay. “Everybody got on base. I know he tried to get the cutter in a little more than he did and he left it out over the plate. I was able to put a good swing on it in a big situation. That was good.”
The Braves trailed 6-0 until the fifth, when they got five singles off Halladay before McCann’s two-out grand slam to the right-field seats, the eighth slam of the catcher’s career. Bourn and Prado each singled in a run before McCann went ‘yard to give the Braves the first six-hit inning off Halladay since 2007.
McCann got poked in the eye by an excited Michael Bourn during the high-fiving celebration, but stayed in the game after being examined in the dugout by trainer Jeff Porter after the inning.
Heyward’s pinch-hit two-run double in his first plate appearance since Sunday (strained oblique), made it the most earned runs against Halladay since he was charged with 12 hits and nine earned runs in 5-1/3 innings at Texas on May 5, 2007.
“This team goes all the way to the end,” Prado said. “That’s what I like about this team, we don’t give up. Nobody wants to make a bad pitch, nobody wants to make an error, nobody wants to strike out with the bases loaded. But in the end, we put everybody on the same page, and we’ve got good results.”
Halladay had allowed only nine earned runs in 47 innings in six career starts against the Braves before Wednesday.