As if Chipper Jones needed anything else to make his last year with the Atlanta Braves more memorable, he dealt the decisive blow on Philadelphia Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon to complete a five-run ninth inning in the Braves' 8-7 win at Turner Field on Sunday.
It at least feels at the moment that the walk-off blast staved off another September collapse when the Braves blew a 9 1/2 game-Wild Card lead a year ago; it was the Braves' fifth win in their last 15 games.
"Nothing beats that," Jones said. "That's as good as it gets for a baseball player, to walk off the field — especially in that situation, where we were really down and out."
The Braves were staring a Phillies sweep right in the face, but were able to maintain a 3 1/2-game lead to stay in Wild Card contention, thanks for Chipper's second walk-off homer of the year and ninth of his career. His other walk-off this year also came against the Phillies in the Braves' epic 15-13 win on May 2.
"It's huge for us from the standpoint that wins have been hard to come by lately," Jones said. "Sometimes you need to go out and win a game that you probably should have lost — or definitely should have lost with the way we started the game."
The Phillies initially stuck it to Paul Maholm for seven runs in two-plus innings. He gave up five runs in the first innings on a two-run double by Ryan Howard and a three-run two-bagger by Erik Kratz.
After allowing the first two runners of the third inning on base, Fredi Gonzalez had no choice but to pull Maholm for Christian Martinez, who gave up a two-run double to Cole Hamels. That, however, was all the Phillies would score, as the Braves bullpen allowed only two more hits the rest of the game.
Hamels largely held the Braves in check over six innings, though Reed Johnson plagued him for three RBIs. The first came in the second when Heyward and Johnson hit consecutive doubles to start the second inning. After a Freddie Freeman single and Heyward double in the sixth, Johnson drove in another pair of runs to cut the deficit to 7-3.
The Braves were unable to plate anymore runs until the ninth, when Papelbon entered with two runners already on base. After striking out Lyle Overbay looking with a suddenly expanded strike zone, Papelbon walked Michael Bourn to load the bases. That set up a two-run double by Martin Prado that bounced off Kevin Frandsen's glove.
"We finally caught a break in the ninth inning," Jones said. "The Phillies, I don't think they made a routine out the whole weekend. Everything they hit found a hole. Everything was an in-between hop for us. Everything we hit hard was right at someone. We finally caught a break in the ninth inning of the last game."
Papelbon had Jones on a 1-1 count on two fastballs, one out of the zone and one that Chipper hacked at and missed. Chipper sat on another fastball. He got one and didn't miss.
"He threw him another fastball right there and it was exactly the same spot and he didn't miss it," Prado said. "That's what the greatest hitters do. They just don't miss. Even if they don't miss the first time, you can not throw the same place with the next pitch. That's why he's a Hall of Famer."
Moments after Jones deposited the game-winner in the seats, he was greeted by his Braves teammates, who kept their tradition of soaking whoever hits a walk-off with water and dirt.
"It's that euphoric state where time stands still and you're not really thinking about that other stuff," Jones said. "It's just that you're thrilled that you won the game. Once they got done kicking me with mud and water, then it starts to set in."
The win gives the Braves some much needed momentum going into a four-game series with the Colorado Rockies. They also maintained their 6 1/2-game deficit with the Washington Nationals in the NL East and kept homefield advantage in the Wild Card by three games over the St. Louis Cardinals.Tags: Atlanta, Atlanta Braves, Chipper Jones, Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon, Martin Prado, MLB, Paul Maholm, Philadelphia Phillies, Reed Johnson