When Chipper Jones retires – and all assumptions on that should be off the table right now because a 38-year-old whose body screams, “Help!” every other day just watched a 100-mile-per-hour fastball fly through in the shadows and cranked it for a 400 foot home run – he will remember this.
He will remember the euphoria of the moment: A three-run shot that put his team ahead and resuscitated an 0-9 Kenshin Kawakami (who in his mind might have been half way to Hartsfield).
He will remember the historical significance: Home run No. 431 of his career tied him with childhood hero Cal Ripken Jr.
He certainly will remember the embarrassment that followed: Running to third base for the eighth inning, not immediately realizing his teammates had stayed behind so he would be out there alone, in the middle of a standing ovation from 39,000 fans.
“I felt naked out there,” he said later.
The Braves won a baseball game 4-3 over Detroit on Saturday at Turner Field. They still have 97 to go in the season. But some games just seem bigger than others.
Kawakami, the Schleprock of the team, had one leg into the bullpen and the other into a therapist’s office when he took the mound. He was 0-for-2010. The imminent return of Jair Jurrjens, combined with the rise of Kris Medlen, likely meant his number was up in the rotation after this start. For all we know, it might still mean that. But he threw a gem for seven innings, allowing the Tigers only two hits and one painful run (walk; sketchy infield single when Kawakami bungled fielding a bunt; wild pitch; groundout).
He trailed 1-0, sitting in the dugout in the bottom of the seventh, when Jones stepped to the plate against the fire-breathing reliever, Joel Zumaya, with two on and two out. The first pitch was a ball. The second pitch, a 100-mph fastball, was belted 400 feet over the right-center field wall.
“You wish you could take that swing and bottle it for the next time,” Jones said. “All of the moons lined up right there.”
He then referenced tying Ripken, adding: “His number is as special to me as any other number and I’ll get. To have it happen when we were behind in the game, you can’t have it any better.”
Ten days ago, Jones ended the public Hamlet act on retirement. He now has a 10-game hitting streak, hitting .389 in that span. As for what he means to this team: How’s this for an embrace? When Jones left the dugout for the eighth, all his teammates stayed behind. Jones stood out there alone for at least 15 seconds, at one point raising his arms and looking back into the dugout.
“It seemed like an eternity,” Jones said.
It was a rare moment. I know this because no Brave, not Bobby Cox, not even Furman Bisher, could remember seeing it before. I thought for sure Bisher would say, “Saw the Tigers do that once for Hank Greenberg back in ‘41. Schoolboy Rowe was pitching. It was a Tuesday.”
Jones again: “As it’s coming down to the end, I’ve learned to soak it in every time something [special] happens because you don’t know how many times it will happen.”
Also this: “I’m going to kill my teammates. I’m going to fine them all in kangaroo court.”
Kawakami sweated it out to the end. Relievers Takashi Saito and Eric O’Flaherty combined to allow a homer and four consecutive walks in the ninth, making the score 4-3. Kawakami, watching on TV in the clubhouse, acknowledged later that after each walk, “I kept changing seats” in hopes of changing his luck.
The last seat must have worked because, with the bases loaded, Peter Moylan threw a full count pitch to Johnny Damon that looked a foot outside, but umpire Gary Cederstrom called it strike three. If he calls it a ball, the game is tied, Kawakami doesn’t get the win and Jones’ homer loses significance.
“A little drama in the last inning,” Cox said later.
Just adds to the moment.
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