Capitals

Chipper has forgettable farewell in playoff loss

201210041412511384552-p2.jpeg

Chipper has forgettable farewell in playoff loss

ATLANTA (AP) Chipper Jones didn't want to go out this way.

The Atlanta Braves third baseman made a crucial throwing error and never hit a ball out of the infield Friday, his brilliant career ending with a 6-3 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in a wild-card game that turned messy when fans littered the field after a disputed call by the umpires.

Don't blame the umps, Jones said.

``I'm the one to blame.''

In the fourth inning, with the Braves leading 2-0 on David Ross' homer, Carlos Beltran blooped a single to right for the first hit of the game off Kris Medlen. But the Braves got what they needed from Matt Holliday, a hard-hit grounder to third base that Jones fielded with a nifty backhanded grab.

``A tailor-made double play'' he called it.

Only one problem. Jones' throw to second base sailed over the head of Dan Uggla, rolling out into right field. The Cardinals wound up scoring three runs and led the rest of the way.

Turns out, that was only ball Jones got out of the infield all night. He went 1 for 5 at the plate, getting a generous call from the official scorer on his final at-bat - a grounder to second baseman Daniel Descalso, whose leaping throw to first pulled Allen Craig off the bag. He couldn't get hit foot on the bag ahead of the 40-year-old Jones, hustling until the end.

He lumbered around to third on Freddie Freeman's ground-rule double, but that was where his career ended.

Uggla grounded out to end the Braves' season - and a big league career that started in 1993. Jones spent it all with the Braves, wining a World Series title in '95, an MVP award in '99, and an NL batting crown four years ago. He'll go down as one of the greatest-switch hitters in baseball history, finishing with 468 homers and a .303 average.

Jones was just crossing home plate as the Cardinals began their celebration. He kept right on running toward the dugout.

It was over.

``I wanted to come out here and play well,'' Jones said. ``My heart is broken not for me. My heard is broken for my teammates and my coaching staff, and all these fans that have been so great to us this year.''

Jones drove to Turner Field for the final time as a player with his mother, father and two of his young sons.

He was amazed how calm he felt.

``I turned around and told my dad, `This is why I know I'm ready to go. I'm not even nervous,''' Jones said before the game, with 8-year-old Shea and 7-year-old Tristan standing nearby, both wearing red Braves jerseys.

But Jones sure looked shaky on that throw, which ruined what should have been another scoreless inning for Medlen.

Jones, who announced his retirement in spring training, had envisioned plenty of ways his career might end.

``This is not one of them, I can assure you that,'' he said. ``It's just one of those things that happens from time to time. You have a game defensively where you don't make plays that you should. You give good teams extra outs and it ends up biting you.''

The Braves made two more throwing errors in the seventh, handing the Cardinals three runs and a 6-2 lead without getting a ball out of the infield.

Atlanta attempted to rally in the eighth, putting two runners aboard with one out. Andrelton Simmons appeared to load the bases when his pop fly to short left field dropped on a mix-up between two fielders, but the umpires called him out on the infield fly rule. That enraged the crowd of 52,631, which littered the field with debris and caused a 19-minute delay.

Jones watched the ugly display from the safety of the Braves dugout.

``Momma didn't raise no fool,'' he quipped. ``You never want to see something get violent like that. I know one thing for sure - you won't be able to say that Braves fans don't care.''

Batting cleanup, Jones had a forgettable night at the plate. He struck out in the first. He grounded out with a runner aboard to end the third. He led off the sixth with a popup. He grounded out with runners at second and third to end the seventh, squandering a chance to pull the Braves within a run.

Finally, he came up in the ninth with two outs and no one aboard.

Before stepping into the box, Jones pulled off his helmet and used it to salute the crowd, most of whom hung around to see his last swing.

``Chipper! Chipper! Chipper!'' they roared.

When it was done, a small batch of fans remained behind the Braves dugout, keeping up the chant in hopes Jones might come out for one last curtain call.

He never did.

It was over.

``I'll be OK,'' Jones said. ``When you walk out of here knowing that you brought it every day, it makes walking away on the final day a little bit easier.''

---

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

Quick Links

5 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning in Game 6

5 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning in Game 6

After losing three straight, the Capitals battled back in Game 6 on Monday. With their 3-0 win, Washington forced the Eastern Conference Final into a decisive Game 7 on Wednesday.

Here is how the Caps did it.

1. Braden Holtby matched Andrei Vasilevskiy save for save

Andrei Vasilevskiy was just as great in this game as he was in the three previous, but one of the major differences in this one was that Holtby was just as good. He may not have been tested as much (Vasilevskiy made 32 saves, Holtby 24), but he was big when the team needed.

In the second period with the scored tied at 0, Holtby made one of the most critical saves perhaps of the entire season when he denied Anthony Cirelli with the toe on a 2-on-1. When the Caps took the lead, Holtby really shut the door in the third period with 10 saves to cap off what was his fifth career playoff shutout and first shutout of the entire season.

2. T.J. Oshie’s timely goal

Over halfway into the game, it looked like it was just going to be one of those nights. Caps fans know it well by now. Washington outplays their opponent, they get chance after chance and develop a whopping advantage in shots, but they run into a hot goalie and a random play suddenly turns into a goal for the other team, game and season over.

Vasilevskiy was on his way to having perhaps his best performance of the series. Considering how he played in the three games prior to Game 6, that’s saying something. The Caps were doing everything right, but he continued to make save after save. Then on the power play in the second period, John Carlson struck the inside of the post, the horn went off and the roar of the crowd gave way to dismay as the referee waved his arms to indicate there was no goal and play continued. Just seconds later, T.J. Oshie gave the Caps the 1-0 lead.

You have to wonder if doubt was starting to creep into the back of the minds of the players when that puck struck the post as they wondered what else they had to do to beat Vasilevskiy. Luckily, that feeling didn’t last long.

3. Special teams

Braydon Coburn’s tripping penalty in the second period gave Washington its only power play of the night and its first since the second period of Game 4. They had to make it count given how well Vasilveskiy was playing and they did.

Washington now has a power play goal in each of their three wins against the Lightning and no power play goals in their three losses. So yeah, it’s significant.

Tampa Bay had two opportunities of their own, but Washington managed to kill off both power plays in the penalty kill’s best performance of the series.

4. Washington’s physical game plan

On paper, the Lightning are better than the Caps in most categories. One area in which Washington has the edge, however, is physical play and it was clear very early that they intended to use that to their advantage in Game 6. Tampa Bay was pushed around and they seemed to struggle to recover.

Ovechkin was a one-man wrecking ball out there hitting everything that moved. The energy he brought with every hit was palpable and both the team and the crowd fed on it.

Washington was credited with 39 hits on the night compared to Tampa Bay’s 19. Ovechkin had four of those as did Nicklas Backstrom while Devante Smith-Pelly contributed five and Tom Wilson and Brooks Orpik each led the team with six.

5. Fourth line dagger

Tampa Bay’s fourth line was the story of Game 5, but Washington’s fourth line sealed the deal on Monday with its third period goal.

Chandler Stephenson beat out an icing call, forcing Braydon Coburn to play the puck along the wall. Jay Beagle picked it up, fed back to Stephenson who backhanded a pass for the perfect setup for Devante Smith-Pelly.

Smith-Pelly scored seven goals in the regular season. He now has four in the playoffs.

MORE CAPITALS STORIES:

Quick Links

Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

usatsi_10847206.jpg
USA TODAY Sports Images

Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

WASHINGTON -- Juan Soto, the youngest player in the majors at 19, hit a three-run homer in his first career start as the Washington Nationals defeated the San Diego Padres 10-2 on Monday.

Mark Reynolds had two solo home runs for the Nationals, who snapped a three-game losing streak. Bryce Harper had a homer and an RBI double.

Soto's drive highlighted a five-run second inning for Washington. The promising outfielder, who played for three minor league teams this season, hit the first pitch from Robbie Erlin (1-3) over the Nationals bullpen in left-center field. Soto also singled.

Soto's homer traveled an estimated 442 feet at Nationals Park. He earned a standing ovation from the crowd and the teenager responded by taking a curtain call. Per Baseball-Reference.com, Soto became the first teenager to hit a home run in a major league game since Harper on Sept. 30, 2012.

Called up to Washington on Sunday, Soto became the first 19-year-old to make his major league debut since Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias in 2016. He entered that game in the eighth inning as a pinch-hitter and struck out.

Washington's starting left fielder began the season at Class A Hagerstown. He hit a combined .362 with 14 homers and 52 RBIs in his three minor league stops.

Gio Gonzalez (5-2) allowed two runs and two hits in seven innings.

San Diego's Franmil Reyes, playing in his seventh career game, also hit his first career home run.

Trea Turner hit a pair of RBI doubles for Washington. Reynolds had three hits.

Erlin surrendered six runs and seven hits over four innings in his third start of the season. San Diego had won three in a row.

Reyes connected for a two-run homer in the fourth inning, but the Padres' lineup generated little else against Gonzalez, who allowed one run over six innings in a no-decision at San Diego on May 9.

2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS AND OTHER NATS NEWS:

- Rankings Update: Where does your team fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?
- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.