Chipper Jones was covered in grass and dirt stains. The left knee of his pants was shredded. In a way, he symbolized the grit shown by his entire team.
Despite a rash of injuries, the Atlanta Braves have maintained their place atop the NL, beating the Cincinnati Reds 6-2 Monday night as Jones drove in three runs and Kevin Millwood pitched three-hit ball over seven innings.
"This is a lot of fun," said Jones, who hit his 33rd homer and had two of Atlanta's seven stolen bases. "It's nice to come to the ballpark in July, August, September and have it be like a playoff game. In a sense, all of these games are playoff games."
"No one in this clubhouse has complained or used that as an excuse," Millwood (14-7) said. "And we're not going to start now."
The Braves, doing anything to win, shook up Cincinnati by coming within one stolen base of the franchise record. Jones also scored on a wild pitch that rolled no more than 4 feet from the plate.
"Regardless of whose fault it is, it shouldn't happen that many times in a game," said Reds catcher Eddie Taubensee, who was so shell-shocked he lost track of all those steals. "It's not a good thing when a team steals six bags off you," he said, failing to account for the seventh ne.
The NL's best home team, Atlanta improved its mark at Turner Field to 43-21 by cooling off the Big Road Machine. The Reds had won 33 of their previous 44 games away from home and still have the top road mark (38-18) in the majors.
Atlanta remained a half-game ahead of the Mets in the NL East, and Cincinnati stayed a half-game behind Houston in the Central standings. Despite the pennant-race ramifications, the crowd of 31,016 was the smallest at Turner Field since June 1.
Atlanta scored two runs in the first, third and seventh and Jones was at the center of all three innings.
After the Reds grabbed a 1-0 lead in their first at-bat, the Braves third baseman went the opposite way for his 33rd homer, a two-run drive off Brett Tomko (4-7) that landed in the first row of the left-field seats.
In the third, Jones doubled into the right-field corner to make it 3-1, then came home on Andruw Jones' RBI single.
Atlanta ran the Reds ragged in the seventh. Bret Boone led off with a double and stole third while Chipper Jones was taking ball four. Jones then stole second before Boone came home on Brian Jordan's sacrifice fly, his 100th RBI of the season.
With third base open, Jones promptly stole it. Then, when reliever Stan Belinda skipped a pitch in the dirt and frazzled catcher Eddie Taubensee turned the wrong way looking for the ball, Jones broke for home.
Taubensee finally located the ball, just behind the plate, but Jones flew over Belinda's attempted tag and tumbled to the ground, rolling almost to the stands while manager Bobby Cox jumped from the dugout to make sure his star was OK. He was.
"Chipper is having an MVP-type year," Cox said.
"We wanted to be aggressive," Jones said. "We felt like we could run on Tomko. Guys got good jumps in good situations."
Millwood started the game like he didn't plan to be around very long. Mike Cameron led off with a drive that Andruw Jones caught at the 400-foot sign in center field. Michael Tucker walked and came home when Greg Vaughn, breaking an 0-for-18 slump, doubled to the gap in left-center.
"It really didn't bother me,"Millwood said. "In most of my games lately, when something has happened to me, it's happened early. Then I seem to settle down and pitch a good ballgame."
He retired 15 of the next 16 hitters, a streak that was broken up in the fourth when Jones bobbled a routine grounder by Barry Larkin and the play was charitably scored a hit.
Michael Tucker had the other hit against Millwood, a sixth-inning homer.
The Braves have won four straight from Cincinnati at Turner Field this season, limiting the Reds to six runs and 14 hits in those games. Atlanta is 20-4 vs. Cincinnati over the last three seasons.
"I can't understand it," Jones said. "There's no logic behind it. That's a good team over there."
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