After the dust had settled late Tuesday night, after the emotions had stopped swirling and the many memorable moments of one of Chipper Jones’ greatest late-career performances had settled in for all of those who watched, there were two facts I still found hard to fathom:
1. Jordan Schafer had a five-hit game in Atlanta before Chipper Jones ever did;
2. Rabbit Maranville, the only previous player in franchise history to have a 10-game hitting streak after his 40th birthday, was listed as 5 feet 5 and 155 pounds, or about one foot and 80 pounds smaller than Chipper.
“Yeah, but my last hit was a cheap one,” Schafer replied to my text today, after I asked him if he was aware that he had a five-hit game in Atlanta before Chipper, who pulled off the feat for the first time Tuesday. (The Braves icon’s two previous five-hit games were on the road.)
Schafer went 5-for-6 with five singles against the Mets at Turner Field on June 16, 2011. His fifth was an infield hit misplayed by Lucas Duda.
Before Chipper did it Tuesday, Schafer was the last Brave to have a five-hit game. He was traded to Houston 15 days later with three minor leaguers in exchange for Michael Bourn and cash. On Tuesday, Bourn’s three-run triple started the Braves’ comeback in what became a 10-3 rout of a win against the Cubs.
Bourn is going to make a whole lot of cash as a free agent, I commented to Schafer. “Yes, he’s really good,” he replied.
But anyway, last night was mostly about Chipper and his 5-for-5, four-RBI game at age 40, and most of this blog will also be about the future Hall of Famer.
Hours after being added to the National League All-Star team, he came through with a game that, at least temporarily, silenced all but his most diehard detractors. He also went 5-for-5 in each of his previous five-hit games, getting two doubles and no RBIs in the ’02 game at Houston and a double, a homer and one RBI in the ’01 game at Arizona.
“It’s happened to me three times in 19 years, so they’re pretty special when they come along,” said Jones, who got two standing ovations and a curtain call Tuesday night. “I just feel fortunate that I’m swinging the bat really good right now when the team needs it.”
Statistically speaking, last night was the best of his five-hit games, and that’s not even taking into account that he’s a decade older than he was the last time he did it.
The last player to have a five-hit game after his 40th birthday was Craig Biggio in 2007, and before that you had to go back to Hall of Famer Paul Molitor in ‘98.
It was the retired Biggio who presented him with a Stetson cowboy hat in a pregame ceremony at home earlier this season before a game in Houston, where the Astros paid tribute to Chipper in his final series there, as other teams have done this season in the final scheduled visit for the third baseman who’s announced he’ll retire after the season.
With every hit and RBI now, Chipper seems to move up a notch on one career list or another, and Tuesday he did some more moving on up.
His four-RBI game left him just two RBIs behind Hall of Famer George Brett as the career leader for players whose primary position was third base. Talk about being in good company, here’s how the top three currently stand on that list: Brett (1,596 RBIs), Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt (1,595), Jones (1,594).
Chipper raised his hits total to 2,666 to move past Max Carey for seventh on the career list for switch-hitters. He’s 17 hits behind No. 6 George Davis and 48 behind No. 5 Roberto Alomar.
With 1,034 extra-base hits, Chipper is only seven from tying Pete Rose (1,041) for second place on that switch-hitter list.
• Streaking at 40: So Chipper wasted no time extending his hitting streak to 10 games last night, which doubled the number of players who’ve had a double-digit hit streak at that age in the long history of the franchise under its various names and cities. Just Chipper and Hall of Famer Rabbit Maranville.
Maranville did it with the Boston Braves in 1933 at age 41. He was a second baseman/shortstop who finished 12th in MVP balloting at age 41 despite hitting .218 with a .539 OPS in 533 plate appearances. Yeah, it was a slightly different game then.
Chipper is 16-for-37 (.432) during his 10-game hitting streak, with seven doubles, a homer, a .512 OBP and .703 slugging in that stretch.
“I’ve felt it coming on for a while,” he said. “I don’t often say that the swing’s right on par, but I felt it coming and I knew that I was going to start getting some hits because I was centering balls. I was centering eight or nine balls out of 10 in batting practice and it was starting to carry over into the game. Tonight was just one of those dream games. I’d be hard-pressed to find another game where I played better.”
Injuries and the team’s inconsistent performance have detracted from what’s been an otherwise solid farewell season for Jones. When he’s been in lineup, he’s given home fans their money’s worth and plenty of memorable moments: In 25 home games, Chipper’s hit .322 with three homers, 18 RBIs and a .400 OBP and a .494 slugging percentage.
In 17 home games since the beginning of May, he’s hit .381 (24-for-63) with two homers, a .458 OBP and .556 slugging.
Oh, and against the Cubs since the beginning of the 2009 season, Chipper has hit .397 (25-for-63) in 18 games with eight doubles, three homers, 15 RBIs, only six strikeouts and a 1.096 OPS. Cubs manager Dale Sveum commented after Tuesday’s game that Chipper’s swing is not ready for retirement and that he should keep playing as a DH.
How much have injuries, and specifically his surgically scarred knees, affected Jones this season? Well, consider this stat: In 37 night games, he’s hit .343 (48-for-140) with eight doubles, five homers, 28 RBIs, .404 OBP and .507 slugging (.911 OPS).
In nine creaky day games, he’s hit .130 (3-for-23) with one homer, five RBIs, .310 OBP and .348 slugging. Takes a while to get those old joints – including what’s left of the cartilage — warmed up and firing.
By the way, with runners in scoring position, Chipper (.300) and Bourn (.299) lead the Braves.
• Bourn and Prado: It says something for the season that Bourn has had that lately it hasn’t even felt like he’s been hot, at least not like he was for long stretches earlier in the season. And yet, in his past 10 games, Bourn has hit .282 with 10 RBIs, five steals, nine runs, three sac flies and an .816 OPS.
Completely (and understandably) overshadowed by Chipper’s 10-game streak and five-hit game was the fact that Prado also extended his hitting streak to nine games. In his past 12 games, Prado has hit .395 (17-for-43) with six extra-base hits, eight RBIs, seven walks and a .453 OBP.
And speaking of hitting at home, Prado’s .342 home average ranks seventh in the NL. In 39 home games he has 15 extra-base hits, 17 RBIs, a .395 OBP and .467 slugging percentage.
• Uggla’s power drought: He’s centered some balls lately and hit some hard liners foul or on the ground down the lines, but Dan Uggla has now gone 20 games without a homer. The All-Star second baseman has hit .119 (8-for-67) with two doubles, two RBIs, 12 walks, 26 strikeouts and a .280 OBP and .149 slugging percentage (.429 OPS) during that stretch.
He has more hit-by-pitches (3) than extra-base hits in that 20-game period, and the Braves went 8-12 in those games.
Tonight’s matchup: It’s Braves nemesis Paul Maholm vs. Randall Delgado. And I should qualify “nemesis,” because while Maholm has exceptional numbers against the Braves, they haven’t translated to wins for the lefty. I mean, against the Braves he’s taken tough luck and lack of run support to new levels.
Just think about these stats: Maholm is 2-1 with a 1.34 ERA in seven starts against the Braves, less than half his next-best ERA against any team. He has no decisions in four starts at Turner Field despite a 1.73 ERA.
His teams have scored two or fewer runs while he’s been in every start vs. the Braves, including one run in five of those games.
He’s even been more dominant against them recently, going 2-0 with a 0.79 ERA in his past five starts against the Braves since the beginning of the 2009 season. In three of those games he pitched seven innings and allowed no earned runs and four or fewer hits. In four of those five starts, his teams scored one run while he was in the game.
He pitched seven scoreless innings of three-hit ball against them in May 9 win at Wrigley Field. In nine starts since then he’s gone 1-4 with a 5.36 ERA and .299 opponents’ average.
Against Maholm, Prado is 6-for-14, David Ross is 8-for-26 (.308) with two homers, and Uggla is 7-for-24 (.292) with two homers. Bourn, however, is 7-for-32 (.219) with two strikeouts.
Delgado is 2-5 with a 5.26 ERA in his past eight starts, and lasted 5-1/3 innings or fewer in six of the eight. The Braves have scored two or fewer runs while he was in seven of those eight games, including no runs while he was in three of his past four.
For those looking for good news: Delgado is 1-3 with a 2.92 ERA in his past six home starts, including two when he went went eight innings and allowed only two runs. Braves scored no runs while he was in four of those six games.
In his only start against the Cubs, he allowed three hits and one run in 5-1/3 innings for no decision in a May 8 win at Wrigley.
And one more thing, Maholm is just 1-4 with a 5.36 ERA and .299 opponents’ average in his past nine starts, a slump that began two games after his gem against the Braves in May.
• Let’s close with “Heavy Metal” off the White Rabbits’ recent album Milk Famous. Not real sure on the lyrics, but below are about as much as anyone’s been able to make out. You can hear the song by clicking here.
“HEAVY METAL” by White Rabbits
Say you like
Calm down that politely asking you moon
…finger it’s trapped round you
Just tell what you need
I say I don’t care if you do
You can fall fighting you
Darling don’t know how
So come alone
Come alone there’s no heart passing through and … now
I don’t like collect who’s collecting you
Well I know
It’s coming after me
Where’s surrounded by …telling you
You’re looking for a …
Darling I don’t know how
You and thoughts I’m waiting in the..and I don’t know how
You…I’m waiting around and don’t know how
Darling I don’t know how
You and thoughts I’m waiting in the… and I don’t know how
You still believe…
I’m waiting around and don’t know how
You still believe…
I’m waiting around and don’t know how
– by David O’Brien, Braves/MIB blog