Bunting hanging from the rafters. Red tomahawks. An actual sellout for a postseason game (but then, it’s new again).
Ted Turner. Jimmy Carter. Bobby Cox (except in the stands, not in cleats).
Also, there was Chipper Jones. He was a 23-year-old rookie in 1995 when the Braves won the World Series. He was a 40-year-old, 19-year veteran when he was making his way from his home to Turner Field Friday for a playoff game against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Perfect weather. Perfect backdrop. Perfect emotions.
“I told my dad, ‘This is why I know I’m ready to go. I’m not even nervous,” Jones said earlier Friday.
It wasn’t the perfect ending. No walk-off homer. No catching the final out. No fairly tale.
More like Stephen King.
Of all the endings Larry “Chipper” Jones envisioned for the final game of his career . . .
“This wasn’t one of them,” he said, completing a question.
A broken bat single in the ninth in five at-bats (at least he wasn’t the final out of the game). Three runners stranded on base. Worst of all, a throwing error on a potential double-play ball that opened the door to a three-run Cardinals’ fourth, signaling the beginning of a Braves’ meltdown.
The Braves lost their one-and-done wild card “round” to the St. Louis Cardinals, 6-3.
That didn’t take long. Thanks for coming.
Afterward, there were debates about one of the worst calls in baseball history: heretofore to be known as, “The Shallow Left Field Fly Rule,” which helped damper a potential Atlanta rally in the eighth. There was the questionable safety squeeze bunt by Andrelton Simmons in the fourth, in which he was called out for running inside the baseline (smothering another inning). There were two other errors that led to unearned runs.
But Jones, looking back on the final game of his career, wouldn’t hear any of it.
“There are a lot of guys in [the clubhouse] laying blame,” he said. “But I kept my mouth shut because ultimately I’m to blame. That ball was tailor-made for a double play.”
It was Jones’ first postseason game since 2005. He didn’t play in the 2010 divisional series because of a torn knee ligament. He decided against retirement because he felt he could still play, wanted one more chance to win another World Series and, “I don’t want the fans’ final image of me to be one of me hurt on the field.”
Nor did he want this image.
In the second inning, he struck out. In the third, he grounded to second. In the sixth, he popped to second.
In the seventh, with a chance to amend for all previous wrongs — two men in scoring position, two outs, a Jones-esque moment if there ever was one — he hit a meek first-pitch groundout to second.
But the biggest pratfall came in the field. In the fourth inning, with the Braves leading 2-0, the Cardinals’ Matt Holliday hit a potential double play ball to third. Jones fielded it but threw it over Dan Uggla’s head at second and into right field. Allen Craig followed with a run-scoring double.
“I made a good pick[up], got a two-seam grip and it sailed on me,” he said.
By the time the inning ended, St. Louis had scored three runs (two unearned). Four of the Cardinals’ six runs were unearned.
Did left field umpire Sam Holbrook botch the infield fly call, preventing the Braves from having the bases loaded? Clearly. But Jones wasn’t going there.
“Ultimately when we look back at this loss, we need to look in the mirror,” he said. That [infield fly] call is in kind of a gray area. I’m not willing to say that call caught us the ball game. Three errors cost us the ball game, mine being the biggest.
“It just seems that play turned everything around, and that’s what I’m most disappointed in,” he said. “Walking out of my last game, I certainly didn’t want to go [1 for 5] and make a play that losses a season. But that’s something I’ll have to deal with in the days to come.”
It doesn’t change his career or his path to the Hall of Fame. It doesn’t change all of the games the Braves won because of him. But it wasn’t the final scene he imagined.
By Jeff Schultz