published Saturday, September 8th, 2012

Atlanta Braves blank Mets, 3-0

Atlanta Braves' Dan Uggla scores at home plate on a sacrifice fly by David Ross as New York Mets catcher Kelly Shoppach waits for the throw in the seventh inning of a baseball game on Friday, Sept. 7, 2012, at Citi Field in New York.
Atlanta Braves' Dan Uggla scores at home plate on a sacrifice fly by David Ross as New York Mets catcher Kelly Shoppach waits for the throw in the seventh inning of a baseball game on Friday, Sept. 7, 2012, at Citi Field in New York.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

NEW YORK — Paul Maholm and the Atlanta Braves are making their best pitch for the playoffs.

Maholm and the Braves bullpen combined to give Atlanta three straight shutouts for the first time in exactly a decade, and the National League wild-card leaders beat the New York Mets 3-0 on Friday night.

Coming off two 1-0 wins over Colorado, the Braves' staff stretched its scoreless streak to 28 innings. Atlanta last pitched three straight shutouts on Sept. 4-7, 2002.

"You try to throw up as many zeros as possible," Maholm said.

Jason Heyward hit his 25th homer in the fourth inning, and Dan Uggla connected with two outs in the ninth.

This weekend marks Chipper Jones' last trip to New York to play the Mets, an opponent he has often wrecked in the past. The Mets presented the retiring 40-year-old star with a pricey piece of 3-D artwork as part of his farewell tour in a pregame ceremony, while the crowd responded with its usual boos.

Jones did little, going 0-for-4, including a strikeout with the bases loaded, and making a throwing error from third base.

"Pregame was a blast. The whole day was a blast, except for when I went to step up to the plate or a ball was hit to me," Jones said.

Fortunately for the Braves, they did fine without him making a contribution.

Maholm (12-9) worked around five hits and three walks in 5 1/3 innings. He evened his record at 3-3 since the Braves got him in a trade with the Chicago Cubs on July 30, including a three-hit shutout at Citi Field on Aug. 10.

"It wasn't the cleanest game," he said. "I was a little erratic. They kind of waited me out."

Still, he extended his shutout streak against the Mets to 22 1/3 innings, spanning four outings. Hitless relief helped him and the Braves close it out.

Chad Durbin got one out in the sixth and Luis Avilan retired pinch-hitter Lucas Duda on a grounder with runners on third and second to end the inning. Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty each pitched a scoreless inning and Craig Kimbrel worked the ninth for his 35th save in 38 chances.

"The thing we did so well when we had guys on base was to get two-out hits. But lately, we're not hitting. We're not hitting at all. And we haven't been able to get big hits here at home," Mets manager Terry Collins.

The Mets lost their eighth straight series opener at Citi Field.

Heyward put the Braves ahead with a drive off Jonathon Niese (10-9) that landed on the roof of the Atlanta bullpen.

Uggla opened the seventh with a double against Bobby Parnell. Catcher Kelly Shoppach had him picked off but made a wild throw into center field. The error moved up Uggla, and he scored on a sacrifice fly by David Ross.

Uggla later added his 18th homer of the season.

Jones appreciative

Every which way Jones turned at Citi Field, someone wanted to thank him.

Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon presented the Atlanta star with the 3-D artwork. A policeman gave him a firm handshake; an usher provided a pat on the back. A man intercepted Jones in the hallway near the clubhouse, reached into a shopping bag and handed him the Braves flag that flew over Shea Stadium and a framed part of the outfield wall.

"I sure appreciate it," Jones told the memorabilia dealer.

Sure was a lot of love for someone who spent almost two decades tormenting the New York Mets.

Jeered, heckled and serenaded with derisive chants of "Lar-ry! Lar-ry!" for years, Jones arrived at the ballpark Friday for his final series in Queens. The retiring 40-year-old slugger was treated like a king, too, showered with smiles and compliments as he greeted fans behind the cage during batting practice.

"Kind of weird," he said during a pregame news conference, "for everybody to be out here for little ol' me."

Jones even drew more polite applause than boos when he was introduced before the first pitch. He stepped out of the dugout and waved his cap in acknowledgment.

But when he stepped up to hit in the opening inning, it was back to normal. Louder boos, a couple of fans chanting his actual first name and a groundout. With a big chance in the third, Jones struck out with the bases loaded.

Before the first pitch, Jones said he wasn't certain what kind of reaction he would receive, adding, "I like to think it will be somewhat mixed."

Asked what he would think about Chipper Jones if he were a Mets fan, he smiled and said: "I would respect the body of work, but I would hate his guts."

Jones hit the first two home runs of his career at Shea and liked the ballpark so much that his 8-year-old son is named Shea.

"His room has been decorated in orange and blue from the get-go," Jones said. The boy's bedroom also features two seats from Shea.

Before unveiling the piece of artwork that portrayed the now-demolished Shea — where Jones did most of his damage — Wilpon playfully said the eight-time All-Star assured him he wouldn't be returning to the ballpark after this weekend.

Jones has gotten plenty of presents from opposing teams on his farewell tour, including a surfboard in San Diego, the Braves flag that flew over Wrigley Field and his No. 10 from scoreboard at Fenway Park.

Jones is far from done, though. The Braves host the Mets to end this month and hope to keep playing deep into October. They lead the NL wild-card race and, who knows, could be back in New York next month for a World Series matchup with the Yankees.

In the meantime, Jones hopes to finish strong. He came into the game batting .304 — his exact career average. Winding up well was especially important to him.

"I haven't heard anybody say you should've retired three years ago," he said. "I didn't want people to be saying it was sad to see Chipper Jones playing that last year."

Mets manager Terry Collins said there was never any doubting Jones' ability, from the days when he was "the up and coming guy."

"Everybody knew he was going to be great and he turned out that way," Collins said.

Jones particularly excelled at Shea, hitting .313 with 19 home runs — his most at any opposing park — and 55 RBIs in 88 games. Overall, he began the weekend as a career .314 hitter against the Mets with 49 home runs and 158 RBIs.

For all that success, Jones said his fondest recollection of a game against the Mets was a loss. It was in 2001, in the first game in New York after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when players from both teams met on the field for pregame hugs and handshakes.

"Etched in my memory forever," he said.

For many years, Jones said, his New York experience was limited. Trips to the city consisted of sleeping, going to the ballpark, playing the game and going back to the hotel, rarely venturing out.

"This place was awfully intimidating," he said.

Now, he enjoys walking the streets and interacting with the same fans who boo him at the stadium.

"Nicest people on the planet," he said.

He's also worked on perfecting his New York accent, and offered a snippet during his pregame news conference.

"Yo! Chip-puh," he tried, drawing laughs.

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