They met at home plate, the past and the future of the Braves.
There was Chipper Jones, boxing out his buddies, wanting to be the first to congratulate the teammate who sent him and the rest of the Braves to the playoffs in his final season.
He was waiting on young Freddie Freeman, who was practically sprinting around the bases even though there was no chance the ball was going to beat him there.
Once Freeman stomped on the plate to propel the Braves into the playoffs, the retiring legend and one of the new faces of the franchise joined their teammates in doing what baseball players do after game-winning hits.
They hopped and bounced and poured dirt on each other to celebrate not only a 4-3 victory over the Miami Marlins on Tuesday night.
The party was just beginning.
The home plate mosh pit and clubhouse cork popping was a remarkable contrast from the end of 2011, when Freeman made the final out of the final game to cap last September’s calamitous collapse.
“This is unbelievable. I don’t even have a dream for anything like this,” Freeman said moments after hitting a two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth to drive home Jones and himself with the tying and winning runs. “I’m lost for words. That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever been a part of in my life.”
The manner of victory was nothing new for these Braves, who have shown a propensity for clutch and come-from-behind victories this season.
Jones, who will retire whenever this season ends, has usually provided the late-inning heroics, but this time he merely set up Freeman by leading off the ninth with a double.
Freeman made sure he would extend the old man’s career. There would be no season-ending double play, like last year.
This time, Freeman drove a fastball about 428 feet over the fence in center to send the Braves back to the postseason for the second time since 2005.
“There was never any doubt,” Jones said. “We knew that last year was somewhat of a fluke. We kind of got caught not really knowing what to expect by a lot of these guys. They took the attitude last year of trying to hang on. This year, we took the bull by the horns. We were shooting for the stars.”
The Braves were 9-18 last September, losing the final five games of the year.
A different team, a different story this time.
There’s no fade, only fight.
The Braves are 15-7 this month — 8-2 in their past 10 games — with eight to play.
“After the stuff we went through last year in September, and for these guys to come out and do what we just did, it answered a lot of critics and a lot of questions coming out of spring training,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “I’m so proud of this club. I don’t know how to handle it. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry or do both.”
And it was tough to tell if any of the players were shedding tears of joy because of all the bubbly and Bud Light shooting and spraying, drenching anyone who moved in the Braves’ clubhouse.
They celebrated like they had just won the World Series, but the champagne provided more of a cleansing bath than anything, washing them free from last September’s disaster.
These Braves aren’t done.
They aren’t ready to settle.
The Braves immediately turned their talk to catching the Nationals, who are four games ahead with eight left.
A wild idea from a team that just clinched a wild card?
No way. Not considering this bunch.
“We’re not going to stop,” center fielder Michael Bourn said. “We’re going to try to put some pressure on the Nationals. We know the Nationals don’t have an easy schedule ahead. We have to take care of our business.”