1995 Braves: Chipper’s postseason journey. Hits, defense - and deer hunting?

Chipper Jones (right) celebrates with teammates Ryan Klesko and Luis Polonia after scoring on a hit by David Justice in the seventh inning of Game Four of the 1995 World Series.

Credit: AP file photo/Mark Duncan

Credit: AP file photo/Mark Duncan

Editor’s note: This is the latest in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution series on the 25th anniversary of the Braves' World Series-winning season of 1995. In stories that will continue through the end of October, we capture all the key moments and hear from the participants as they share their memories. Today’s installment focuses on Chipper Jones’ recollections of the postseason journey, including a hunting trip the morning of Game 1 of the World Series.

The Braves were making their third trip to the World Series in five seasons when they broke through for a world championship in 1995, but that was the first foray into the postseason for Chipper Jones. The future Hall of Famer and cornerstone of the Braves franchise was a rookie when the Braves won it all. Little did he know that first World Series title would be his last.

Jones did his part to make it memorable. He introduced himself to postseason play in the Division Series with one of the best games of his 19-year career. He hit two home runs, including the game-winner, and made a critical play at third base to rob Andres Galarraga of extra bases in a Game 1 win over the Colorado Rockies.

Jones takes us from that chilly, spine-tingling comeback in the first game in Colorado all the way to the bottom of the dog pile at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium following the World Series clincher in this wide-ranging Q&A. Read on for his perspective on the big moments of the Braves' run at the 1995 World Series.

Q. What was the feeling like of playing in your first postseason?

A. Sheer panic. It’s a lot of anticipation. There wasn’t a lot of sleep the night before. Out on the field ready for batting practice early. It was just, hey, let’s get going, there’s too much nervous energy.

Q. What do you remember about your first home run in Game 1 of the Division Series against Kevin Ritz?

A. Ritz had thrown really well. He kept us off-balance. I can just remember thinking, “Hopefully that’ll spark us and get us off the mat.” I wanted to have an impact in some way shape or form on every single game. And if we lost, it wasn’t because I didn’t do something to directly impact the game. Obviously the best way to do that is to hit a homer and provide instant offense, but as we were about to find out in the innings to come, I had more in the tank that night.

Q. Diving for the line drive up the third-base line from Andres Galarraga - how much was preparation and how much was reaction?

A. Knowing who you’ve got on the mound and who you have hitting is everything. If you know these things, and anticipate, you can be moving before the ball is ever hit. You know that everything Greg McMichael is throwing is sinking down and in to a right-handed hitter. That is Andres Galarraga’s nitro zone. So seeing Javy (Lopez) set up inside, hearing Blaus (Jeff Blauser) whistle, I know something’s coming down and in. It doesn’t really matter whether it’s a change-up or fastball because it’s not like McMichael lit up the radar anyway, so (I took) a couple little shuffle steps toward the line. The ball is hit like a rocket, and the only way I’m going to catch it is to lay out. For whatever reason - I guess it’s better to be lucky than good - the ball stuck.

Q. Being able to hold Dante Bichette at third base and throw out Larry Walker at second base changes the whole inning?

A. Getting (Walker) by a half a step at second really turned that inning from being a multi-run typical Coors Field rally to us basically giving up just the one run and getting out of the inning, keeping the game tied. (If) that ball gets by me down by the line, 100 percent Walker scores. So now we’re down a run, Galarraga is in scoring position, the crowd’s into the game, there’s no telling what that snowballs into. Now that I’ve made the play to thwart the big inning, the crowd is not as juiced, the game is still tied, and now we’re on offense and got a chance to win.

Q. So then you’re still amped up from the defensive play when you came up with two outs in the top of the ninth?

A. Yeah, 100 percent. I had just made the play of my life … and the game is still tied, there is still something to be decided. There’s no time to stop now.

Q. When Curtis Leskanic falls behind 2-0, you’re looking fastball?

A. I was probably 70-30 fastball, breaking ball. Leskanic is a guy whose bread and butter is his slider … but Leskanic didn’t have great control of his fastball. I felt like whenever he needed a strike, he would take a little off the slider and throw you one of those get-me-over sliders. So in the back of my mind I was kind of looking for it. I saw it really well and didn’t hit it great, but got just enough of it. That homer would probably be categorized as a Coors Field homer, the ball that was not centered and still went out of the ballpark.

Q. You hit safely in each of the first eight games of the 1995 postseason, including all four of the National League Championship Series sweep over the Reds. You batted .438 (7-for-16) for the series, including a three-hit, one homer night in Game 3. What do you remember about the two-run shot off Xavier Hernandez that widened the lead from 3-0 to 5-0 in a 5-2 win?

A. I was thinking to myself, “I faced this guy before, I know what he’s got, and he’s got a really good split-finger (fastball).” It’s one of those situations where having Fred McGriff hit behind me and David Justice behind him, they’re going to come at me and see what I got. I knew I didn’t want to see his split-finger, so I was going to be aggressive on any fastball that he threw and he threw it in my wheelhouse. He came right at me, and I was able to put the nail in the coffin in Game 3. We really took the air out of them in Game 3, just a solid all-around performance. Once you’re down 3-0, honestly Game 4 was a foregone conclusion.

Q. So we didn’t know it in 1995, but isn’t it true you spent the wee hours of the morning before Game 1 of the World Series deer hunting in South Georgia?

A. Maybe not the greatest decision in the world, but you’ve got a 23-year-old kid. I’m not going to sleep. All I’m going to do is toss and turn and sit around the house and be ornery because I’m not at the ballpark. You look for something to just pass the time that may possibly take your mind off of it for a couple of hours. Hunting was that release for me. … I looked at my wife and I said, “I’m going to go hunting.” And she was like, “Excuse me?”

Q. So you got to the hotel where your parents were at about 2 a.m. and slept in your truck?

A. Yeah, I was going to get a room and leave a note on my dad’s truck to let him know that I was there, but nobody would answer up at the front desk. I’m like, “Well, I guess I’ll recline the seat in my truck and try to grab a wink or two and wake up and go hunting.”

Q. Your dad’s reaction was?

A. “What the hell are you doing?” At that point you know it’s probably not the best decision, but you try to be upbeat, “Going hunting. Let’s go!” Looking back that’s probably one of those decisions I would have slapped me upside the head. (But) I hunted until 10 o’clock or so and stopped and got something to eat and went right to the ballpark. I grabbed a little nap, got ready to face Orel Hershiser Game 1.

Q. What were your impressions come game time that night?

A. Game 1 of the World Series was a huge learning experience for me, first time facing Hershiser on the biggest stage. I fared OK. I went 0-for-4, but I hit the ball OK. I came away from it thinking that wasn’t all that daunting, so let’s go.

Q. How would you sum up your World Series personally?

A. Games 2 and 6 were good. I had multi-hit games in both of those. I had a couple of doubles up in Cleveland. I remember turning a big double play off of (Carlos) Baerga. I remember drawing a big walk off of (Paul) Assenmacher that led to a couple of runs scoring, scored a big couple runs. Other guys stepped up. It was Ryan Klesko’s time to shine. He had a homer in each game up in Cleveland. David (Justice) got a big base hit to help us win Game 4. All we needed to do was go up (to Cleveland) and win one, after winning both games in Atlanta, and luckily Dave stepped up big time, Pedro Borbon stepped up big time, and Klesko stepped up.

Q. What did you think when you opened up the paper the morning of Game 6 and saw the headlines about Justice calling out Braves fans?

A. I was just thinking, “Why this, why now?” I don’t think David meant anything malicious by it. He just made an observation. I think the headlines kind of jaded everyone 90-10 towards busting on DJ, but it is what it is. I’ll tell you this: It worked from the standpoint of those fans were crazy that night, in Atlanta. And I thought it was very fitting that DJ be the guy that night. All of us wanted to be the guy that hit the home run that brought a World Series championship to Atlanta, but if wasn’t going to be me, I was glad it was DJ. He was pretty torn up before the game, with the way everything came across. For him to step up against a tough lefty and have the biggest swing in franchise history. … No disrespect to Hank (Aaron) and 715; that was an individual accolade. This was what every professional team shoots for: to be the last team standing. That one swing brought a championship to a town that desperately needed one.

Q. So after David’s homer made it 1-0 in the sixth, you looked down in the dugout to Tom Glavine?

A. Yeah, after him looking at all of us hitters (earlier in the game) and saying, “Let’s go boys, I only need one,” then when we got the one, I caught his eye. I lifted my eyebrows. He gave me that look like “Yeah, now it’s on me.” He always used a little something to challenge himself, whether it was a naysayer or in that instance, where he provided us a challenge, and then we stepped up for him and my little look to him was kind of that challenge back. He took it and ran.

Q. After Glavine got through eight scoreless, what was it like playing behind closer Mark Wohlers for three outs in the ninth?

A. One thing that scared me about the ninth inning in a one-run game, was Kenny Lofton leading off. Wohlers doesn’t really hold runners on that well, so quite honestly, if Lofton gets on, he’s stealing second and third. And with (Omar) Vizquel and Baerga coming up, chances of them scoring are pretty good. When the ball went up over my head, I knew it was foul. I just put my head down and (ran.) When I looked back over my head the ball was already in my periphery, so I knew I was out of play, and then all of a sudden (shortstop Rafael) Belliard comes out of nowhere. He’s got a different angle on it than I do because he’s playing deeper; I was playing for the bunt. He just comes like a bat out of hell and cuts across and makes the play, and at that point, the game is over. I really thought Woh could overpower Vizquel, and now we just got to keep Baerga in the park. I think he had a sprained ankle and was having trouble staying in his legs at the plate, so I wasn’t worried about him leaving the yard. Obviously, you’ve got a big concern if somebody gets on base you’ve got to deal with Albert Belle. But I felt good about our chances to go three up, three down.

Q. So when Marquis Grissom caught that final out in left center field …?

A. Sheer euphoria. In a team sports setting, I’ve never had another feeling like that. You’re looking around for somebody to hug and tackle, I think it was a race to the pitcher’s mound and you see me, embracing Woh and Javy (Lopez.) Then you just wait for the cavalry to get there and hopefully you don’t get hurt on the bottom of the pile. I can remember thinking to myself, “I’ve never had this much humanity on top of me.”

Q. At that point in your career, with the team the Braves had, you figured “Surely we’ll do this again,” right?

A. I never figured we’d only win one. We thought we were in the middle of a really good run. The pitchers were in their heyday, guys contributing. I thought for the next four or five years we’d be in the running for another one. Baseball gods didn’t see it that way. It’s unfortunate, but hey, that’s baseball. There’s a lot of good teams that you can point to over the last 20 or 30 years you thought were going to win multiple championships and didn’t. Some of them didn’t win any.

MORE FROM THE SERIES

» About the series

» FURMAN BISHER: Atlanta’s finest moment

» SPRING TRAINING: Starting with replacement players

» MARK BRADLEY: A subdued season, a giddy ending

» BOBBY COX: The best manager we’ll ever see

» BUILDING THE BRAVES: How the championship team was built

» CHIPPER JONES: ‘No bigger beneficiary of ’94 strike than me’

» TOM GLAVINE: Completing the journey back to fan favor

» MARK LEMKE: Improbable journey capped by World Series ring

» JOHN SMOLTZ: No Game 7 for him, but one heck of a celebration

» ANNOUNCERS: Championship call years in the making

» GREG MADDUX: At his best during ’95 World Series run

» DAVE SHOTKOSKI: Remembering pitcher killed in spring training

» MARQUIS GRISSOM: Dream comes true for Atlanta native

» MARK WOHLERS: Played prominent role in team’s success

» GREG McMICHAEL: How he found his pitch and earned his ring

In Other News