BRAVES 4, PIRATES 0
By WILL GRAVESAssociated Press
PITTSBURGH — The storybook ending for Chipper Jones would have been putting a fastball into the Allegheny River.
At age 40, however, Jones doesn’t try to mash the baseball so much as massage it. Instead, the Atlanta Braves third baseman had to settle for bookending his 19-year career with pinch-hit singles.
Jones rapped an A.J. Burnett pitch to right field in his final regular season at-bat and the Atlanta Braves beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-0 on Wednesday.
“I’d like to thank A.J. for coming right at me,” Jones said with a laugh after collecting the 2,726th and final regular-season hit of his 19-year career.
Jones entered as a pinch hitter in the sixth. Batting left-handed, he took the first pitch he saw from Burnett and laced it to the outfield, proving a nice bit of symmetry. Jones singled in the first at-bat of his career against Cincinnati on Sept. 14, 1993.
“I got to go out the same way I came in,” Jones said.
The Braves ended 1993 in the World Series, though Jones didn’t play. They’re hoping to do the same after grabbing the top wild-card spot. Atlanta hosts world champion St. Louis on Friday, with the winner advancing to the division series.
“Now we’ve got to get over this one-game playoff thing to give ourselves a legitimate shot at what we were all shooting for out of spring training,” Jones said.
While Jones is heading to the postseason, Atlanta pitcher Ben Sheets is almost certainly not. Still, the veteran right-hander who has been dogged by injuries in recent years was able to go out on his own terms.
Sheets pitched one scoreless inning in what he’s said will be his final major league appearance, striking out two – including Pittsburgh star Andrew McCutchen – while hitting 96 mph on the radar gun.
“It felt great,” Sheets said. “It was as good as anything I could probably draw up.”
Sheets is unlikely to be placed on Atlanta’s postseason roster, but with a playoff spot secure and nothing really to lose, the Braves sent the four-time All-Star to the mound one last time. He needed just a couple minutes to get loose and when he walked back to the dugout after three outs, he knew he was done.
Asked if he’d consider sticking around to find a spot in a bullpen somewhere, Sheets just smiled and said, “dude, I’m good.”
So are the 94-win Braves, who are heading into the postseason with some momentum after a stunning collapse last fall. Instead of swooning down the stretch this year, they’ve surged. Atlanta is 20-10 since Sept. 1.
“A little bit different than last year as I recall,” Jones said of the Braves, who will start Kris Medlen (10-1, 1.57 ERA) on Friday against Kyle Lohse (16-3, 2.86). “I think we’ll look back on (last) September as a learning experience. No better example of that than the way we played this September.”
Jason Heyward singled twice and scored two runs for the Braves while Luis Avilan (1-0) won on a day Atlanta used eight pitchers.
“We got some stuff accomplished today and we got the win,” said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez. “A lot of good stuff.”
Burnett (16-10) gave up four runs in 52/3 innings for Pittsburgh. The Pirates finished 79-83, extending their record streak of losing seasons to 20.