Mark Wiedmer: Chipper's great career ends on bad note in Braves' loss

Mark Wiedmer: Chipper's great career ends on bad note in Braves' loss

October 6th, 2012 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones reacts near the end of the ninth inning during the National League wild card playoff baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals, Friday, Oct. 5, 2012, in Atlanta.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

ATLANTA - Not like this.

Anything but this.

You just don't make all the right moves for 19 years in the spotlight, then lay your biggest egg in your final game. Life just doesn't work that way. At least it shouldn't.

Especially if you're 40-year-old Chipper Jones and you've pretty much carried the Atlanta Braves offense on your back for more than a decade of those 19 seasons, making big plays in the field and far bigger plays at the plate whenever needed.

You're supposed to go out with a Hollywood ending. Bases loaded. One massive, monumental swing and "Yea, Chipper, you've saved us again."

But that's not what took place Friday evening at Turner Field against the defending world champion St. Louis Cardinals in the National League wild-card game.

Instead, the Braves lost 6-3, ending their season and their retiring third baseman's career.

Instead, in Chipper's own painful words, "Three errors cost us this game, and mine was the biggest."

Later, his voice still firm but soft: "You don't want to go 0-for-5 (actually he was 1-for-5) and make an error that costs your team the game."

A lot of things cost the Braves a chance to advance to the divisional round for the second time in three years. As Jones noted, a team that had led the NL in fielding all season -- making only 86 errors over the entire 162-game schedule -- made three against the defending world champion Cards, beginning with Jones in the fourth.

Before then, the Braves had taken a 2-0 lead on catcher David Ross's homer in the second. Before then, the Braves looked like they would force a crowd of 52,631 to return to Turner Field on Sunday to host the Washington Nationals in the first game of a best-of-five.

But then came the fourth inning and Jones fielded a sharp but relatively routine grounder to third. He threw to second trying to begin a double play. The ball sailed into the outfield. By the time the inning ended, St. Louis led 3-2, never to trail again.

Not that the disbelief ended there.

There is no way to discuss the game that ends the Braves' season without mentioning the second out of the bottom of the eighth, which was called an out on an "infield fly rule" despite Cards shortstop Pete Kozma letting Andrelton Simmons' high fly ball drop into shallow left.

Think of the so-called TD catch at the end of the Packers-Seahawks game a couple of weeks ago and you have some idea of the outrage in Braves Country over the call by left field umpire Sam Holbrook.

In fact, were Holbrook not such a highly regarded official, you might swear he was an NFL replacement ref who'd found a new gig.

Or as Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said later, "I thought we were going to catch a break there. Bases loaded and one out with [Brian] McCann at the plate instead of second and third with two outs."

But second and third with two outs is what they got. And the game got a 19-minute break because a goodly number of Braves backers turned into European soccer hooligans at that point, the fans showering the playing field with debris, everything from half-full water bottles and beer cans to popcorn boxes to game programs. Vulgar chants were passionately delivered. Southern hospitality disappeared.

"For me, that's uncalled for," said Gonzalez, who lodged an unsuccessful protest. "I understand the disappointment. But we can't do that. Whether you're an Atlanta Brave, a St. Louis Cardinal or an umpire, when these things are coming at you, it's a scary moment."

But the Braves could never really put a scare in the Cards after that, though they certainly tried.

McCann walked against Cards closer Jason Motte after the 19-minute delay led to the departure of Dalton's Mitchell Boggs, but Michael Bourn struck out to end the threat and leave the Braves in a 6-3 hole with one inning to go.

(Side note: When Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel forced the Cards into two fly-ball outs to open the top of the ninth, the fans derisively chanted, "Infield out! Infield out!" after each.)

Finally, it was the bottom of the ninth and a final chance for the Hollywood ending the Braves Nation was hoping for. Motte returned to the mound to face Martin Prado, Jason Heyward and Chipper.

Unfortunately, Prado grounded out to second, Heyward flied out to left and Jones came to the plate for what figured to his final at-bat with no one in front of him.

Like the fictional Casey, he swung a mighty swing for strike one. After taking a ball, he fouled one back to the press box for strike two. He took a second ball, then fouled off a third strike as flashbulbs filled the stands.

His next swing produced a broken bat and an infield single that replays showed probably wasn't. Sometimes the umpires taketh away and sometimes they giveth.

And, naturally, just like that, with Chipper aboard, Freddie Freeman ripped a ground-rule double to send the star-crossed Dan Uggla to the plate with a chance to tie the game.

He grounded to second, ending the Braves' season and beginning Round 2 of the debris raining down on the field. So much for Southern hospitality.

So much for the final game of Chipper's Hall of Fame career.

"It's hard right now," he said. "There's a lot of players trying to lay blame in our clubhouse, and I'm not saying anything because, ultimately, I'm the one who should take the blame."

Maybe. But only if he takes the credit for getting them this far.