ATLANTA – There will come a time, sometime in the next few days, when Chipper Jones will realize that he’s done with baseball.
He might be playing with his kids or getting ready for a hunting trip or just sitting around watching the playoffs.
Whenever it hits him, he’ll probably flash one of those sly, wry grins that make him look like the Grinch, because there won’t be any second thoughts. There won’t be any regrets.
Even though his final game was filled with a strange infield fly rule call, a near riot from irate, bottle-throwing fans, uncharacteristic errors, and resulted in a 6-3 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League wild-card game, Jones retired from the Braves and baseball on his own terms.
“I walk out of here knowing that I brought it every single day,” he said. “I think when you walk out of here knowing that you brought it every day, it makes walking away on the final day a little easier.”
There are sentimentalists among us who would have loved to seen Jones end his 19-year career with another World Series championship.
If that had happened, Jones would have won a title as a 23-year-old rookie in 1995 and as a 40-year-old in the final year of a Hall-of-Fame career in 2012. But that didn’t happen.
There were no magical, happy endings at Turner Field on Friday night.
Life, it was proved again, isn’t always a Disney movie.
“You envision Chipper going out a champion. In our eyes, he’s going to go out a champion,” the Braves’ Dan Uggla said. “The way he’s played this game, all the memories he’s given these fans. Baseball fans in general, across the country. He’s a special guy, a special player. It sucks that it has to end like this.”
This season was filled with so many special moments for Jones that you thought fate might have another left for him.
Surely he would do something magical before the curtain fell for the final time on his career. After all the clutch hits and late-inning home runs and his hit in his final All-Star Game, you just knew that this night would bring more heroics from Jones.
He instead played one of his worst games of the season, going 1-for-5 with a fourth-inning error that resulted in three runs. His performance was so bad that he took responsibility for the loss, saying, “Ultimately, I feel I’m the one to blame.”
“Today my heart is broken, not for me, my heart is broken for my teammates and my coaching staff, and all these fans that have been so great to us this year.”
Braves starter Kris Medlen said: “Even a Hall of Famer makes errors.”
Jones was hitless in his four at-bats before walking to the plate one final time in the ninth against Cardinals closer Jason Motte, who looks like Grizzly Adams and is armed with a bear of a fastball and sinker.
He swung at the first pitch, took the second and then fouled off the third, a rocket that caromed off the inside of the press box and landed in the stands.
Ball two followed before he fouled another pitch softly into the screen behind home.
Finally, Jones saw a sinker he thought he could handle, which was about all that was left of his bat after he broke it hitting a grounder up the middle.
Second baseman Daniel Descalso fielded it, but Jones beat the throw to first.
The infield hit would be his final one and gave brief hope for the Braves, who brought the tying run to the plate after Freddie Freeman doubled to send Jones to third.
He didn’t go any farther.
Uggla grounded out to second to end the game and Jones’ career.
“Walking away from my last game, you certainly don’t want to go (1-for-5) and make an error that loses the season for your ballclub,” Jones said. “That will be something I’ll have to deal with in the days to come.”