Chipper Jones always seems to come through on big occasions.
Even bobblehead night.
Jones homered twice on a night when a big crowd turned out to get a souvenir from his farewell season, and the Atlanta Braves won their 15th straight game with Kris Medlen as a starter, beating the San Diego Padres 6-0 on Thursday.
Seizing the moment before a weeknight turnout of 33,157 – more than the previous two nights combined – Jones hit a two-run homer in the first, then added a towering solo shot over the wall in center field in the fifth.
”If we have to make some silly bobblehead things to get people in the stands, so be it. Keep doing it,” Jones said, breaking into a big smile. ”We get motivated to play every night, but there are certain nights when it’s special, whether certain family members are in the seats, or it’s your birthday, or it’s bobblehead night.”
For the 40-year-old Jones, who is retiring after this season, it was his first multihomer game in more than three years and gave him 12 homers in what is turning out to be quite a final year. He raised his team-leading average to .315 and came out of the dugout for a curtain call after both drives, the second of which was his 2,700th career hit.
Oh, and the third baseman also made a diving grab, flipping the ball from his stomach to get a force at second.
”You always want to make a splash and bring people to their feet,” Jones said. ”This is just another of a handful of games this year that have been awfully special to me.”
Jason Heyward also homered for the Braves, but this night belonged to Jones.
And don’t forget Medlen, who turned in the first complete game of his career with a five-hit shutout.
”He’s more than stated his case to be in the rotation from here on out,” Jones said. ”The guy just wins ballgames. It’s awfully comforting as a player to know your guy is going to hold them to a minimum amount of runs.”
Medlen (4-1) did what he always seems to do as a starter – ensure the Braves of a victory. In between his frequent stints as a reliever, Atlanta has won 15 consecutive times when the right-hander begins the game since May 2010. That is the longest current streak in the majors and ties the franchise record set by John Smoltz during his Cy Young Award-winning season in 1996.
”He pounds the strike zone,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said. ”Guys love to play behind him.”
Medlen won’t be in a line for a Cy Young, but he’s proven to be one of the Braves’ most reliable pitchers no matter what role he’s put in. He also showed off his defensive skills, snagging a liner in the first and spinning around to throw out his counterpart, Jason Marquis, at the plate as he attempted to score on a third-inning grounder.
”He was able to throw a complete game because he can field his position,” Gonzalez said. ”Very few guys in our rotation, maybe in the majors, makes that play early in the game where he throws out Marquis at the plate. Usually you go to first base on that play, including me. I was looking over at first.”
Michael Bourn led off the game for Atlanta with a double just inside the first-base bag, but it looked as though Marquis (6-7) might escape the jam when Martin Prado lined out to second and Heyward struck out. But Jones drove a 3-2 pitch into the seats in right, staking Medlen to an early lead.
While he has to take frequent days off to rest his aging, battered body, Jones tries to build his schedule around special events such as the bobblehead night.
”People tell me all the time they’re coming to games and we hope you’re playing, it’s going to be the last time we see you play,” Jones said before batting practice. ”I take that to heart.”
The crowd was appreciative when he came up again in the fifth, right after Heyward homered with two outs for a 3-0 lead. Jones followed suit, connecting on a fat pitch that left Marquis standing on the mound, hands on his knees, not even bothering to look. Center fielder Cameron Maybin made a halfhearted leap at the wall, but that was just to get a better look. This one cleared it with plenty to spare, while Jones rounded the bases in that familiar trot of his.
The Braves weren’t done in the fifth, either. Freddie Freeman walked, Dan Uggla doubled, and Brian McCann was walked intentionally to load the bases. That was it for Marquis, the Padres turning to Brad Boxberger to face Paul Janish. The move backfired when the light-hitting shortstop singled to center to bring home two more runs.
The way San Diego has been hitting, they could have called the game right then.
Even though manager Bud Black called off batting practice, hoping it would give the bats a boost, the Padres were shut out for the second time in three nights by the Braves, sandwiched around a 6-1 loss.
”We hit the ball on the nose a couple of times hard early in the game,” Black said. ”We just couldn’t get anything going after that.”
Notes: Jones had the 40th multihomer game of his career, but his first since June 7, 2009, at Milwaukee. … The Braves had back-to-back homers for the second time this season. … San Diego RHP Ross Ohlendorf (4-3) headed home early to get ready for his start Friday against Matt Cain (11-5) and San Francisco. … RHP Tommy Hanson (12-5) will be activated from the DL (lower-back strain) to face the Dodgers in the opener of a weekend series. Los Angeles will counter with Chris Capuano (11-8). … With Hanson’s return, the Braves will temporarily go to a six-man rotation to help cope with a stretch of 20 games in 20 days. Atlanta’s next day off is Aug. 30. Gonzalez considers this a tryout to determine who the best five starters are for the stretch drive.