ATLANTA — Chipper Jones would love nothing more than to end his stellar career as a champion, and the Atlanta Braves are doing their best to help the retiring third baseman attain that goal.
When Jones led off the bottom of the ninth inning Tuesday night with a double, his teammates were hardly surprised.
“Chipper’s last year — it couldn’t be a better story,” catcher Brian McCann said. “We were all saying that he’s going to do something special.”
The switch-hitter did just that, knocking Mike Dunn’s 95 mph fastball to the opposite field in right-center and stirring the excitement at Turner Field. Freddie Freeman, the next batter, followed with a two-run homer that gave the Braves a 4-3 victory over the Miami Marlins and sent Atlanta back to the playoffs.
The wild finish began a celebration as Freeman’s drive off Dunn clinched at least a National League wild-card berth — a major turnaround for a club that squandered a big lead in the wild-card race last year with a huge September collapse.
Jones, the longtime star who plans to retire at the end of the season, took a simple approach as he stepped into the batter’s box against Dunn, a former Atlanta teammate.
“I knew in the ninth inning what I’ve got to do,” Jones said. “I had to split the gap perfectly.”
Most of the announced crowd of 25,632 stood for Jones’ ninth-inning at-bat. The fans roared when he pulled into second base standing up, and they cheered louder when a wild pitch by Dunn (0-3) advanced him to third.
When Freeman’s 22nd homer easily cleared the wall in center field, an entire year of frustration seemed to vanish.
“For us to win this game right now, 2012 has come full circle,” Freeman said. “It’s a great moment for this team, but we’ve still got a long ways to go because we’re not done with the division yet.”
This year, Atlanta cruised most of the way and wrapped up a postseason spot with more than a week to spare.
And the Braves still have a chance to catch first-place Washington in the NL East. They moved within four games of the Nationals, who lost to Philadelphia 6-3, with eight games remaining.
Atlanta hasn’t won the NL East since 2005, the last of their 14 consecutive division titles under former manager Bobby Cox.
“We’ve still got a chance to win some more games and maybe something else,” second-year skipper Fredi Gonzalez said. “I know it’s going to be a difficult task, but we’re going to keep going.”
Craig Kimbrel (3-1) worked a scoreless ninth inning to help the Braves win their 22nd straight game started by Kris Medlen. The streak is the longest in the majors since the Yankees won 22 consecutive games started by Whitey Ford in 1950 and ‘53.View Entire Story
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