"A trip to New York will bring better things."
A 23-year-old Larry "Chipper" Jones uttered that sentiment to a pool of Atlanta Braves beat reporters on May 8, 1995. The Braves just surrendered a four-game sweep to the Philadelphia Phillies and Jones, just a dumb kid who had only had a cup of coffee in the Majors in 1993 and because he missed the entire 1994 season while recovering from an ACL injury. He, like any sane baseball player, knew well enough that it was way too early to panic - especially considering that the season started so late due to the last-minute resolution of the 1994-95 baseball strike.
Unfortunately, that sentiment, the wide-eyed optimism that making it up in New York means you'll make it anywhere, helped boost Jones into the pantheon of premier baseball players at the expense of our beloved Mets. He smacked his first career home run the next day, introducing himself to the Shea Faithful as a menace who would torment the die hards in Queens for the next 17 years.
There were some who hit more against the Mets (Willie Stargell hit 60 heartbreakers over his career) and some who crushed our hopes and dreams on a bigger stage (Yadier Molina, anyone?), but there have been few singular opponents in the Mets' storied history who haunted the Flushing fans so consistently and so thoroughly.
At the moment, the former first round draft pick can claim 49 home runs at the expense of the Amazin's, which is tied with the Phillies for the most dingers delivered by Jones against a single team. This weekend marks the last time Jones can pad that total in Flushing, though he'll have three more games later this month back in the den of horrors that is Turner Field.
And as Mets fans prepare to
boo Jones out of Citi Field bid adieu to one of the most feared and revered rivals in team history, we here at Amazin' Avenue decided to take a look back at some of the battle scars we repressed Larry Jones' most lethal home runs at the Mets' expense.
May 9, 1995 vs. Josias Manzanillo
Where to start? After Jeff Kent had tied the game for the Mets with a solo homer in the bottom of the eighth, Jones capped a 2-for-4 day with leading off the top of the ninth by making Josias Manzanillo, the reliever who entered this game with an 11.12 ERA and who attended a pre-game meeting with the Mets pitching staff about the very topic of getting ahead of hitters, the answer to the question "Which Mets reliever dialed up the 2-0 fastball that resulted in Chipper's first career home run?" It gave the Braves a 3-2 lead, Jones with the highest WPA he's ever accrued from a home run against the Mets (.339), and Mets fans with the first taste of heartburn they'd feel every time Larry's name appears in the Braves' lineup.
"It was a long time coming and I got quite emotional. I went into the tunnel to gather myself together."
July 2, 1999 vs. Masato Yoshii
While Jones' first career home run fell on my birthday, this one has always been more of a personal low for me. The Braves third baseman put an exclamation point on a three-run first inning for the Braves by belting a 412-foot blast off the Japanese right hander. It marked the first of two homers Jones would hit in a 16-0 drubbing that saw Matt Franco record an out as a reliever and Rick Reed in right field.
The kicker? The sell out crowd of 51,979 fans at Shea were in the house for Fireworks Night, meaning every last one of them - including your friendly neighborhood Mets blogger - had to watch every moment of suffering summoned up that night by Jones and company.
"After the third inning, I told him we might need him."
- Mets manager Bobby Valentine, on giving Franco a heads up that he might need to pitch in relief
Sept. 21, 1999 vs. Dennis Cook
1999 didn't end so badly for Mets fans as the team ended its 11-year playoff drought with a Wild Card appearance. Of course, the Mets settled for the Wild Card because they went into Turner Field on Sept. 21 just one game behind the Braves for the NL East lead - and left four games behind. Jones played a big part in that, hitting four home runs in that three game series including two in the series opener. As the first came against reliably righty Rick Reed, Valentine brought in the left-handed Cook to turn Jones around at the plate. Chipper didn't mind hitting righty, knocking a solo shot over the fence for the game winner.
"It's a tough loss, but it's not going to break our season. We've still got our chances."
Sept. 23, 1999 vs. Al Leiter
While Cook's home run took the wind out of their sails, this one against Leiter removed all doubt about which playoff race the Mets would pursue in the 1999 season's final days. Jones hit his final home run of the '99 campaign off the Mets southpaw, further cementing what would result in the Braves slugger being named the 1999 National League Most Valuable Player. That Jones hit the three-run homer wasn't the debate after this game. The debate instead was about Valentine's decision to allow anyone to keep pitching to the Mets' biggest pest.
"It's not a worry or a concern. You don't always see the same hero, so they have to have someone else come through. If they do, they'll be champs."
Sept. 11, 2002 vs. Steve Trachsel
The New York fans, seeing the 2002 Mets in freefall, likely hoped for a spirited effort from their beloved Amazin's given the sentimental considerations of the one-year anniversary of 9-11. They got it in the nightcap, but Jones spoiled the first game of the doubleheader with a pair of home runs, one against Trachsel and a later one against the questionably-nicknamed "Japaense Greg Maddux," Satoru Komiyama.
"It was a long and exhausting 14 hours in uniform with everything going on. It was hard to concentrate. But the interruptions all had meaning to them. The guys that were here last year, I looked at their faces and could tell they were feeling it."
Sept. 27, 2002 vs. Pedro Astacio
The 2002 Mets likely didn't need another doubleheader against the Braves, but they got it towards the end of the season and Jones once again capitalized. The first game at Shea was a ghost town in terms of attendance, while the latter had about a third of the 33,527 paid attendance actually in the building to see Jones take Astacio deep. If you were still watching this albatross of a team on Sept. 27, you likely stopped for good once Chipper's homer left the yard and officially clinched last place for the Mets for the first time since 1993.
"Mathematically, we weren't eliminated till a few weeks ago, but realistically, just the way you look at it, I can't put a number on it when it felt over."
- Mike Piazza, on the team's broken spirits following this game
Sept. 5, 2005 vs. Steve Trachsel
Hey, look, Steve Trachsel again! While hearts were heavy in Metsopotamia regarding Trachsel's first appearance on the list, they were flying high this time around as the Amazin's were just two and a half games back in the NL Wild Card race. Jones changed that attitude by clobbering a tiebreaking two-run home run in the eighth, boosting the Braves toward a 101-win season and bringing Willie Randolph's inaugural season as Mets manager a little further away from a happy ending.
"He seems to be the one to always drop the hammer."
Aug. 9, 2007 vs. John Maine
Remember all those games in 2007 when Willie Randolph would say "Oh, it's just one loss" without knowing yet that all those losses would result in the Collapse? This was one of those losses, as Jones, who was inserting himself in yet another NL MVP conversation, brought the Braves from behind with a two-run homer in the fifth. Mark Teixeira went back-to-back following Jones's no doubter, but this one gets special mention as A) at 439 feet, it was the longest home run he would hit outside of Turner Field in 2007, and B) it represented his last home run in Shea Stadium.
"By the middle innings we were both drenched with sweat, sticky with overflow ketchup and chocolate ice cream, and fractious, sniping about the timing of mandatory bathroom trips and debating the proper relationship between not listening to fathers and the likelihood of getting further treats. And the Mets weren't helping, not with John Maine pulling his usual act of getting unnerved by a bit of bad luck, only this time he gave up a shockingly long homer to Chipper (whom I tried to teach my unnervingly fair-minded son to boo) and then a less-flamboyant one to Teixeira."
- Faith and Fear in Flushing's Jason Fry, on recalling what it was like to manage his four-year-old son and his expectations for the Mets on a warm August afternoon
Sept. 21, 2009 vs. Pat Misch
Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end, right? Once Shea Stadium ceased to be and Citi Field became the official home of our New York Mets, Chipper Jones officially christened the place with his first home run in the new building. He hit the third of three home runs by the Braves' first 12 batters in the game, and did it on the 10-year anniversary of his soul-sucking performance against the playoff-bound 1999 Mets.
June 16, 2011 vs. R.A. Dickey
In Dickey we trust, unless he's in Turner Field with a 3-0 count against Chipper Jones. Larry struck once more against the Mets' beloved knuckleballer with a three-run shot against a Mets team under new management and mired in Madoff madness. Mets fans kept right on deluding themselves into thinking their might be a playoff race in Flushing after the All-Star break, but it was always truly tough to believe given that Jones, who wound up with a 3-for-4 day and tied his career high for RBIs in a single game with five, was still in the league. (Of course, it didn't help that the Mets would go on to lose due to an always-popular walkoff balk by D.J. Carrasco.)
"Well, I guess if we're gonna get beat, at least it's Chipper and not one of those scrubs."
- Amazin' Avenue commenter MetsFan4Decades, making peace with the familiar refrain of Jones tearing the still-beating heart out of the Mets in another game
Feel free to leave out any Chipper-branded home runs I missed in the comments.