Give Chipper Jones a proper stage, the brighter the lights the better, and the 40-year-old third baseman still rises to the occasion more often than not.
He did again Thursday, adding another stirring performance to his farewell-season highlight reel with two home runs in a 6-0 win against the San Diego Padres on Chipper Jones Bobblehead Night at Turner Field, the Braves’ 17th victory in 22 games.
“That old man over there [Jones] is really good,” said Kris Medlen (4-1), who pitched a five-hit shutout in the first complete game of his career, and didn’t mind one bit being overshadowed. “To watch that guy do his thing for however long he’s done it, and be able to be here for his last season, it’s one of the coolest seasons I’ve experienced so far. And we’ve got a lot to go.”
The Braves won for the 15th consecutive time in games started by Medlen, equaling a team record set by John Smoltz in 1996. Jason Heyward added three hits including his career-high 20th homer, part of back-to-back jacks with Jones in the fifth inning.
But this night belonged to old No. 10, dubbed “Battleaxe” by his teammates.
“I know he’s real because I’ve touched him,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez, whose Braves (69-49) moved to a season-high 20 games over .500. “But some of the stuff he’s done is incredible. Bobblehead night, two home runs, 2,700 hits on a home run … and doing that at age 40. And he’s having fun doing it.”
Jones hit a two-run homer in the first inning, and a fifth-inning homer for his 2,700th career hit. A crowd of 33,157 roared until he until came out for his second curtain call of the night — the first multi-curtain call game of his career.
“You always want to make a splash and bring people to their feet and tonight was just another one of the handful of games this year that have been awfully special for me,” said Jones, who is retiring after the season, and seems determined to stuff as many memories as he possibly can into his final months playing in a Braves uniform.
It was his 40th multi-homer game of his career and first since June 7, 2009, and Jones moved past Dave Winfield into 32nd place on the career list with 466 homers.
It took a night like Jones had to take the attention from Medlen, who had six strikeouts and no walks, threw 76 strikes in 104 pitches, and improved to 3-0 with a 1.05 ERA in four starts since moving from the bullpen.
Medlen retired the Padres in order in the ninth on a strikeout and two groundouts, including a terrific play by shortstop Paul Janish for the second out. It was a new feeling for Medlen to hear applause when he went out to bat in the eighth inning.
“You walk out there and fans start cheering because they know you’re going back in [to pitch the ninth],” he said. “It’s a really cool feeling, being able to close out the game. If that ball snuck through on the play that Pauly [Janish] made, I think I was probably out of the game. I was real excited he made that.
“You can’t win unless the offense scores, and they did a good job.”
Medlen was 5-0 as a starter in 2010, when the Braves went 13-1 in his starts before he had season-ending elbow surgery that forced him to miss all but the final week of the 2011 season.
“It started with Medlen — complete-game shutout,” Jones said. “I think he’s more than stated his case to be in the rotation from here on out. Guy just wins ballgames. We know he’s going to keep us in the ballgame. It’s awfully comforting as an offensive player to know that your guy is going to hold them to a minimal amount of runs.
“Three balls flew out of the ballpark and Braves win and we win the series after dumping the first one, so it’s a good night all around. Everybody goes home feeling good.”
The first 20,000 fans through the turnstiles Thursday received Chipper Jones bobblehead dolls, and everyone who made it to their seats by the bottom of the first inning got another treat when Jones homered with two out off ex-Brave Jason Marquis (6-7) for a 2-0 lead.
That’s how the score stayed until two outs in the fifth inning, when the Braves got back-to-back homers by their famous young star, Heyward, and their iconic elder statesman, Jones.
Heyward pulled the ball about 15 rows up into the right-field bleachers for his 20th homer of the season, two more than he hit a rookie in 2010, his career high before this season. He also singled and doubled and has hit .301 with 11 doubles, 12 homers and 30 RBIs in his past 41 games.
“Action-packed game,” Heyward said. “Storybook career [for Jones]. He keeps adding to it. I’m just fortunate enough, blessed to be a part of it at this point.”
Five pitches after Heyward took Marquis deep, Jones followed with another homer, this one to center. It was another jolt for a buzzed crowd, and Jones trotted around the bases to a standing ovation that grew ever louder until he came out of the dugout and saluted his fans.
The crowd Thursday was larger than the combined attendance of games Tuesday and Wednesday against San Diego.
“I knew there were going to be a bunch of people here for the bobblehead promotion,” Jones said. “This place gets electric when the stands get full, and the first three games of the series, everybody was kind of laid back. So it was good tonight that they came out in full force, and if they have to make some silly bobblehead thing to promote, get people in the stands, then so be it. Keep doing it. You’ll keep filling up the stands and you’ll keep seeing good performances by us.
“We get motivated to play every night. Every night we motivate ourselves in some way, shape or form. But there are certain nights where it’s special, whether you’ve got certain family members in the seats or it’s your birthday or it’s bobblehead night – whatever.”
The two homers made him 8-for-17 with five homers in his career against Marquis, and made Jones the 65th player in major league history with 2,700 hits. He has 12 homers and 53 RBIs in 76 games this season, and 466 homers and 1,614 RBIs in a career that likely will secure him a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Jones reiterated two weeks ago that he’s had no second thoughts about retirement and that he has no intentions to reconsider. He said he’s ready to move on, as much as it might appear otherwise from the way he’s playing on those surgically scarred knees. The man is raking, to use a term from the baseball vernacular.
In his past 37 games, Jones has hit .356 with 14 doubles, seven homers, 27 RBIs and a slugging percentage above .600.