Chipper's walk-off blast caps Braves' wild rally

Chipper's walk-off blast caps Braves' wild rally

Chipper's walk-off blast caps Braves' wild rally
ATLANTA -- With the tension mounting and the Braves staring at the likelihood of suffering yet another loss, Chipper Jones delivered a game-winning blast that added to the splendor of his final year while possibly altering the course of a season that was heading in the wrong direction.

As the baseball world wondered if they were indeed headed for a second straight late-season collapse, the Braves displayed a resilient spirit during a five-run ninth inning that provided a dramatic 8-7 win over the Phillies on Sunday night at Turner Field. Jones delivered the final blow with the towering three-run home run off All-Star closer Jonathan Papelbon.

"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."

Jones' walk-off blast over the right-center field wall provided the Braves with just their fifth win in the past 15 games. Or maybe more appropriately, it provided them with a victory that will halt some of the talk about the possibility of a repeat of what occurred last year -- when Atlanta blew a 9 1/2-game Wild Card lead in September.

"This is something that I think we need, this is something to get the juices flowing again, get the team going again," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "[Jones] stepped up again. Good for us."

Both of the walk-off home runs that Jones has hit this year have come after the Braves encountered a deficit of at least six runs against the Phillies. The first capped a 15-13 win on May 2.

Exactly four months later, Jones drilled another game-winner over the right-center field wall. This latest one traveled a little farther and had far more significance.

Instead of being swept by a Phillies team that has frustrated them down the stretch each of the previous three seasons, the Braves stopped the bleeding and maintained a 3 1/2-game cushion to secure one of the two available National League Wild Card spots.

"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."

It appeared the Braves were headed for a frustration-filled night when the Phillies roughed up starter Paul Maholm for five runs in the first inning. Cole Hamels kept Atlanta's offense in check over six innings and aided his own cause with a two-run double moments after Cristhian Martinez relieved Maholm with no outs in the third inning.

The Braves trailed, 7-1, when Maholm exited.

Jason Heyward's second double of the night put him in position to score on Reed Johnson's two-run single that cut Philadelphia's lead to 7-3 in the sixth. But the Braves would not do any more damage until the ninth, when Papelbon entered with one out and two runners on base. He walked Michael Bourn to load the bases before Martin Prado hit a chopper that caromed off third baseman Kevin Frandsen's glove and made its way to left field, allowing two runs to score.

"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 missed with a first-pitch fastball to Jones and then blew one by him. This led the 40-year-old third baseman to assume the hard-throwing right-hander would come back with more heat, instead of flirting with the possibility of getting beat with his slider or splitter.

As has been the case so often in his career, Jones correctly predicted Papelbon's next move.

"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."

As Jones rounded the bases, he did not necessarily think about the fact that he had also beat the Phillies with a walk-off homer just four months earlier. The future Hall of Famer was consumed by the emotions of the moment and preparing himself for the mob scene that awaited him as the Braves extended their walk-off tradition of dousing the hero with dirt and cups of water.

"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."

There was plenty of reason to credit the bullpen for its ability to keep the Phillies scoreless after the third inning. Some credit also had to be given to Johnson, who capped his three-hit night with a single in the ninth inning.

But in the end, the spotlight once again shone on Jones, who has continued to show his flair for the dramatic during this final season.

"I thought the first [walk-off home run] against these guys was a pretty special one," Jones said. "If there is a such a thing as one that is better than that one, this is probably it."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.