Chipper Jones has no intention of going out with a whimper.
Atlanta’s future Hall of Fame third baseman launched a three-run homer off Jonathan Papelbon with two outs in the bottom of the ninth as the Braves edged the Phillies 8-7 on Sunday.
The Braves trailed 7-3 entering the bottom of the ninth before getting two on against Jeremy Horst. Papelbon came on with one out for what looked like a pretty easy save chance, but after striking out Lyle Overbay on a pitch that looked outside, he walked Michael Bourn to load the bases. Martin Prado then hit a chopper down the line that Kevin Frandsen couldn’t decide to how to play. It ended up getting past him for a two-run double, allowing Chipper to come up and end the Braves’ three-game losing streak with a bomb to right center.
It was Chipper’s ninth career walkoff homer. He also had one against the Phillies back on May 2 in an 11-inning game. Before that, he hadn’t had one since 2006. It’s the second time he’s had a walkoff homer with the Braves trailing, as opposed to being a tie game.
Papelbon blew his fourth save in 35 opportunities. He’s given up six homers this year after allowing just three in his final season with Boston.
Jones, who reiterated after the game that he still intends to retire at season’s end, is hitting .302 with 14 homers and 58 RBI.
The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.
In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.
The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.
Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”
It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.
It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.