NEW YORK – Chipper Jones wasn’t in the lineup Sunday for his last scheduled game in New York City, but it had nothing to do with a desire to deprive Mets fans of a final opportunity to boo him four or five times.
The third baseman’s surgically repaired left knee swelled some again during the first two days of the three-game series against the Mets, and was worse after a 75-minute rain delay prior to the seventh inning Saturday.
“I didn’t feel real good last night,” said Jones, 40, who is retiring after the season. “Yesterday there was a lot of swelling in the knee for some reason, and I was having trouble moving around. I’ve been having trouble throwing this entire series, and my left knee is to the point where it’s getting hard to straighten it out. And when you have that much fluid in your knee and can’t straighten your knee out, it affects you.”
When he woke Sunday, Jones sent a text message to manager Fredi Gonzalez that said he wanted to try to play today.
“I feel better today,” he said after arriving at Citi Field “I actually told him that I wanted to play today. But I also told him last night that I may need some time. So I think he’s going to stick to the plan to give me today [off], see how we feel tomorrow and just kind of go from there. It’s just one of those things. Like I said, I can play three or four days and stuff starts hurting.”
Gonzalez and the Braves training staff have followed a plan this season of giving Jones a day off every three to five days, or when either of his knees or anything else is sore. He had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in the last week of spring training, his third procedure on that knee and sixth overall knee surgery.
“He texted me and said he felt pretty good,” Gonzalez said. “And I said you know what, we talked yesterday about not playing, let’s just make sure. I don’t want to wear him down. We’ve done a good job kind of keeping him in the lineup. He’s a presence in the lineup, and all of a sudden you try to push him a little more and he hurts himself and you lose him for [a longer period].
“Yesterday after the rain delay he tells me, ‘Damn, it’s [hurting].’ It’s hard to get going and then stop for an hour and 20, then play again.”
The Braves have a three-game series at Milwaukee that starts Monday, then an off day Thursday before a six-game homestand against Washington and Miami.
“We talked about him maybe not playing the last day in Milwaukee, then that would give him two [consecutive] days off,” Gonzalez said. “Any time we give him two days off, it seems to get him going.”
The Braves’ goal was to keep Jones off the disabled list during the season, and they’d been able to do that with the exception of a DL stint after he was struck above the ankle by a hard-hit one-hopper in May that left severe bruising and eventually was drained through surgery.
Jones’ performance has surpassed most expectations in his final season. He’s hit above .300 most of the season, although an 0-for-7 in the first two games of the Mets series dropped his average to .297 before Sunday. He had 14 homers, 59 RBIs, a team-best .376 on-base percentage and .486 slugging percentage in 93 games.
He said his knee gets cranky, “around every three or four days. And that’s what they’ve done a good job of getting me days when I need them. About the most I’ve played all year is five or six games in a row, and that doesn’t happen very often.”
Despite going hitless Friday and Saturday and being out of the lineup Sunday, Jones said he had enjoyed his last scheduled series in New York.
“Obviously it’s kind of bittersweet,” he said. “The last time I’ll be coming here as a player, unless we possibly face the Yankees in the World Series. I wish things would have worked out so I could have played today. I really wanted to try and get out there today. But as I’ve said so many times, sometimes the body just doesn’t allow me to do so.
“We’ve got a chance to sweep, so that would be a good way to kind of blow out of town. But win, lose or draw, it’s been awesome to come out here and play on this stage. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity, grateful to the Mets organization for all their generosity and the hospitality this weekend. And the fans. They’ve been receptive. I’ve heard a lot of cheers when I walked up to the plate, and some chants last night late. Not used to hearing that particular chant that I heard last night. It’s usually ‘Larry.’ Last night it was ‘Chipper,’ so that was cool.”