ATLANTA - His first playoff game since 2005 less than four hours away Friday afternoon, retiring Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones couldn't resist having a little fun with the one-game wild-card playoff format against the St. Louis Cardinals.
"Let's have everybody in," Jones said of the new playoff format that begins with the two best teams that didn't win a division facing each other for a win-or-go-home contest.
"Let's play 162 games to seed ourselves. ... We'll let the Astros [the National League's worst team this year] have a shot at it, whoever else wants a shot at it, just go on a six or seven-game winning streak and you're the world champion.
"We'll just have a 32-team, single-elimination March Madness tournament. That's the way we ought to do it."
Pressed further, Jones added:
"I'm trying to give everybody an opportunity to make the playoffs. I mean, think of the excitement in every town today knowing that if all you have to do is win however many games -- five, six, a five-game winning streak to end the year, and you win. Anybody could do that.
"Quite honestly, I think if we're going to continue to let teams in year after year, we might as well just say ... let everybody in."
He was smiling at least part of the time he was speaking.
Tony La Russa was the Cardinals manager when the Redbirds claimed their 11th World Series crown last season.
Satisfied with a career that earned him three world championship rings (two with St. Looie, one in Oakland), La Russa stepped aside to hand over the reins to Mike Matheny, the youngest active manager in the majors.
So did Matheny enter Friday afternoon's wild-card game attempting to treat it as just another game?
"Is it a different situation?" he rhetorically asked a writer earlier in the day. "We all know it is. As far as preparation goes, it's another game ... and I think the guys have bought into it. They're loose. But once again, it's a different animal we're dealing with today."
Rolling into playoffs*
Wild-card teams tend to be those who get hot late. Not to disappoint, St. Louis entered Friday's game with the best record in the National League since Sept. 16, going 12-4. The second best over that time? Atlanta, at 11-5.
Gearrin makes roster
Former Rhea County High School star Cory Gearrin made the Braves' 25-man roster for the wild-card game, joining eight other pitchers on the squad. In one of his first-ever games in the majors a year ago, he retired the heart of the Cardinals' order at that time: Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday.
"It's definitely exciting," said Gearrin as he entered a closed clubhouse early Friday afternoon. "This is what you dream about."
Dalton's Mitchell Boggs was on the Cardinals' roster and pitched in the eighth inning, leaving after the long delay to clean up the fans' debris.
Trick or treat?
The Braves beat the Cardinals five of six meetings during the regular season, but the last of those was in May.
"It doesn't matter how long it's been," Matheny said. "How they perceive us is how they perceive us. Let's just play."