PITTSBURGH – Chipper Jones knew plenty of people traveled to Pittsburgh to see him play in the retiring third baseman’s last regular-season game Wednesday. His heart said yes, his body said no, so he compromised.
Jones was out of the lineup for the second consecutive game since playing a season-high seven in a row, but he got a pinch-hit single in the sixth-inning Wednesday. He finished with a .287 season average and a .303 career average, and hopes to have his achy body feeling better before the Braves host the Wild Card game against St. Louis at 5:07 p.m. Friday.
“I’m not healthy. I need some time,” Jones said Wednesday morning. “Knees, back… I just really needed some time. I expected to play today, or at least give it the old spring training try, a couple of at-bats and whatnot. But I’d much rather have the time off. And have tomorrow off, work out at the stadium. Have three or four solid days off before Friday, because usually when I take a day or two, 36-48 hours, I feel great the next day. Hopefully this is no different.”
After starting all six games on the Braves’ last homestand that ended Sunday, Jones also played the series opener against the Pirates on Monday, going 0-for-3 with a walk to make him 1-for-18 with six walks in his past six games before Wednesday.
He lined a pinch-hit single through the right side of the infield on the first pitch of the sixth inning Wednesday. Jones got a standing ovation when he took the lineup card out to home plate, another when he was introduced in the sixth, and one more after scoring on J.C. Boscan’s bases-loaded RBI single in the inning.
Jones hit three homers in back-to-back games Aug. 16 vs. the Padres (two homers on his bobblehead night) and Aug. 17 vs. the Dodgers. Since then, he had batted .216 (24-for-111) in 34 games before Wednesday, with four doubles, one homer, eight RBIs and a .279 slugging percentage.
He said before the last homestand that he planned to play every remaining home game, and he did — playing every inning of all six games, as the Braves surged to keep alive slim NL East title hopes and played to crowds totaling more than 150,000 in Jones’ final three-game home series.
The Washington Nationals clinched the division title when the Braves lost 2-1 in Monday’s series opener at Pittsburgh.
“I wanted to be in the starting lineup for all the home games,” Jones said. “Quite honestly, the only reason I didn’t take Monday off was because I had so many family and friends in the stands here [in Pittsburgh]. I figured I’d play one game and let the chips fall where they may, as far as the division. If we had still been in it, I’d have been in [the lineup Tuesday] night.
“But I’m going to get more out of these two days off than strapping it up and playing for a couple of [at-bats] each game.”
Braves fans appeared to out-number Pirates fans in the sparse crowd Tuesday, and in the late innings many fans chanted “We want Chipper.” One particularly aggressive fan shouted directly at manager Fredi Gonzalez from the end of the dugout to put in the player he drove to Pittsburgh to see play.
“The guy came around the corner. He looked in the dugout and yelled, ‘Put him in!’” Gonzalez said, smiling as he told the story. “He said, ‘I drove all the way from…’ — I don’t even know where he came from. I looked at Chipper and Chipper [signaled no].
“I understand the fans want to see him. He may get a pinch-hit [appearance], see what he feels like.”
Jones laughed and said, “I mean, I’m sure if they get as rowdy as they did last night late in the game…. It was funny, because Fredi kept looking at me out of the corner of his eye. I’m like, no, I’m not going in there. Don’t even ask me. He’s like, ‘They’re going to string me up from something out here.’ I said, blame it on me.”
“They [teammates] were all joining the chant in the dugout, too. I think they enjoyed making Fredi squirm a little.”
When the Braves’ bus returned to the team hotel in downtown Pittsburgh late Tuesday, Jones signed autographs for dozens of fans waiting outside the entrance.