Chipper Jones received a few modest gifts from teammates before taking the field on his 40th birthday and celebrated it the best way possible – with a home run. Martin Prado wouldn’t let it be wasted.
Prado had two RBIs including a run-scoring triple in the ninth inning, and the Atlanta Braves beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-3 on Tuesday night.
”Martin Prado gave me my birthday present. That was the best one of the day,” Jones said. ”It’s been a fun ride, and it’s great to have my last birthday in the big leagues turn out the right way. I consider myself pretty lucky to be 40 years old and still playing – in a lot more limited role, but playing nonetheless. I doubt if anybody really expects to be playing on their 40th birthday. I mean, as a kid, you’d like to think you’re going to play forever.
”Unfortunately, as many miles and as many innings and as many games as I’ve got on these legs, it’s coming down to the end. So it’s bittersweet,” Jones added. ”I’m glad this is it, because my body’s starting to let me know on a nightly basis that I’m 40. I’d love to see how it felt to be 31 again.”
Jones has homered on his birthday on four different occasions since coming up to the big leagues in 1993, including his 24th, 29th (twice) and 36th. He has played on his birthday 13 times, going 21 for 49, and the Braves are 11-2 in those games.
Jones found about 30 messages on his cell phone when he awoke Tuesday morning, then grabbed a couple more hours sleep and saw another 30 messages waiting for him.
”I’ve got a lot a ton of friends out there, both inside and outside the game that thought enough to say happy birthday,” he said. ”I can’t wait to get back home. I got a real cool message from my four boys this morning, and I miss them. Hopefully we won’t get rained out tomorrow, because my wife has a rather elaborate birthday party planned for Thursday. And if we have to play Thursday, I’m not going to make it. So I’m crossing my fingers.”
Jones, playing in his 19th and final big league season, was 1 for 3 with a walk in what could have been his last game at Dodger Stadium if the predictions of rain for Wednesday’s series prove accurate. After the third inning, the left field video board flashed the message: ”Happy birthday Chipper. The Dodgers salute your remarkable career,” while organist Nancy Bea Hefley played ”Think Of Me” from the musical ”Phantom of the Opera.”
The seven-time All-Star, whose 457 career homers are the third-most among switch-hitters behind Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray, hit a towering drive into the Atlanta bullpen in right field on Aaron Harang’s first pitch of the fifth to put the Braves on the board. Jones is the fifth player to homer on his 40th birthday, along with Bob Thurman (1957), Joe Morgan (1983), Wade Boggs (1998) and Tony Phillips (1999).
”He threw me a couple of off-speed pitches my first at-bat, and I thought he might challenge me in at some point that second at-bat,” said Jones, who has 13 homers at Dodger Stadium. ”I got one up and got out in front of it. You’ve really got to put a charge into one to hit it out of here at night.
”All three of my homers that I’ve hit this year have been really cool,” Jones added. ”I hit my first one in my first start in Houston with my parents in the stands, and the second one came in my home opener. And now this one. You always want to do something special on your birthday, and it doesn’t get more special than that.”
Doing it at Dodger Stadium made the experience that much more significant for him.
”This place has always been special to me because I grew up a huge Dodger fan, so this was my Yankee Stadium,” Jones said. ”My father was from Vero Beach, where they used to train, so I can remember waking up in the mornings before elementary school, and the first thing I would do is turn on the news to see how the Dodgers did. I feel a little different about the Dodgers now than I did back then, obviously, but this is still a special place for me to play and it’s still one of the most beautiful ballparks – to this day.”
Tyler Pastornicky greeted Dodgers closer Javy Guerra (1-2) with a leadoff single in the ninth and advanced on a sacrifice by pinch-hitter Jack Wilson. Michael Bourn struck out, but Prado drove a 1-2 pitch to center field and over the head of two-time Gold Glove winner Matt Kemp, who caught up to it in the warning track but couldn’t hold onto the ball.
”He’s got pop and he drove the ball. I should have caught it,” Kemp said. ”I was very close. If it hits the glove, it’s got to be caught. There are no excuses. You just have to turn the page and get `em tomorrow.”
Eric O’Flaherty (1-0) pitched 1 1-3 hitless innings for the victory and Craig Kimbrel worked a scoreless ninth for his sixth save in as many attempts.
The Braves tied it 2-all five batters after Jones’ homer on a bases-loaded groundout by Prado, who has 11 RBIs.
Juan Rivera gave Los Angeles a 2-0 lead in the first with a two-out homer against lefty Mike Minor that hooked around the left field pole. It made him the 20th player to homer into the Loge deck at Chavez Ravine and the eighth to do it with the Dodgers. The first was Frank Howard in Game 4 of the 1963 World Series against the Yankees’ Whitey Ford.
Notes: Rivera left the game with a strained left hamstring after getting an infield single off Minor’s leg in the sixth. … Los Angeles placed RHP Matt Guerrier on the 15-day DL, retroactive to April 19, because of tendinitis in his elbow and recalled LHP Michael Antonini from Triple-A Albuquerque. … The Braves recalled RHP Cory Gearrin from Triple-A Gwinnett to fill the roster spot left vacant when RHP Jair Jurrjens was demoted to Gwinnett following his loss on Monday night.