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10/04/2012 12:38 AM EDT
Jones singles in finale, Braves top Pirates 4-0
ATLANTA 4, PITTSBURGH 0

By WILL GRAVES
AP Sports Writer

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The storybook ending for Chipper Jones would
have been putting a fastball into the Allegheny River.



At age 40, however, Jones doesn't try to mash the baseball so
much as massage it. Instead, the Atlanta Braves third baseman
had to settle for bookending his 19-year career with pinch-hit
singles.



Jones rapped an A.J. Burnett pitch to right field in his final
regular season at-bat and the Atlanta Braves beat the Pittsburgh
Pirates 4-0 on Wednesday.



"I'd like to thank A.J. for coming right at me," Jones said with
a laugh after collecting the 2,726th and final regular-season
hit of his 19-year career.



Jones entered as a pinch hitter in the sixth. Batting
left-handed, he took the first pitch he saw from Burnett and
laced it to the outfield, proving a nice bit of symmetry. Jones
singled in the first at-bat of his career against Cincinnati on
Sept. 14, 1993.



"I got to go out the same way I came in," Jones said.



The Braves ended 1993 in the World Series, though Jones didn't
play. They're hoping to do the same after grabbing the top
wild-card spot. Atlanta hosts defending world champion St. Louis
on Friday, with the winner advancing to the division series.



"Now we've got to get over this one-game playoff thing to give
ourselves a legitimate shot at what we were all shooting for out
of spring training," Jones said.



While Jones is heading to the postseason, Atlanta pitcher Ben
Sheets is almost certainly not. Still, the veteran right-hander
who has been dogged by injuries in recent years was able to go
out on his own terms.



Sheets pitched one scoreless inning in what he's said will be
his final major league appearance, striking out two - including
Pittsburgh star Andrew McCutchen - while hitting 96 mph on the
radar gun.



"It felt great," Sheets said. "It was as good as anything I
could probably draw up."



Sheets is unlikely to be placed on Atlanta's postseason roster,
but with a playoff spot secure and nothing really to lose, the
Braves sent the four-time All-Star to the mound one last time.
He needed just a couple minutes to get loose and when he walked
back to the dugout after three quick outs, he knew he was done.



Asked if he'd consider sticking around to find a spot in a
bullpen somewhere, Sheets just smiled and said, "dude, I'm
good."



So are the 94-win Braves, who are heading into the postseason
with some momentum after a stunning collapse last fall forced
them to watch the playoffs on television.



Instead of swooning down the stretch this year, they've surged.
Atlanta is 20-10 since Sept. 1.



"A little bit different than last year as I recall," Jones said.
"I think we'll look back on (last) September as a learning
experience. No better example of that than the way we played
this September."



Jason Heyward singled twice and scored two runs for the Braves
while Luis Avilan (1-0) won on a day Atlanta used eight pitchers
to hold Pittsburgh to four hits.



"We got some stuff accomplished today and we got the win," said
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez. "A lot of good stuff."



Burnett (16-10) gave up four runs in 5 2-3 innings for
Pittsburgh. The Pirates finished 79-83, extending their record
streak of losing seasons to 20.



"We needed to win our games," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Our
goal was to win more games."



A regular-season finale that looked like it might be important a
month ago had a decidedly spring training feel after the Pirates
collapsed down the stretch.



Pittsburgh was 62-46 on Aug. 8 but finished on a 17-37 slide,
though the team's 79 wins tied for the most since the infamous
streak began following a loss to the Braves in the 1992 NL
championship series.



"You have to try and take some positives from it," said
McCutchen, who hit .327 this season to finish second behind San
Francisco's Buster Posey for the NL batting title. "Every year
is hard to take when you don't end up where you want to be.
Every year is tough."



Maybe none, however, were more painful than this one. The
Pirates were the talk of baseball over the summer behind a
pitching staff that flourished behind Burnett, who embraced the
roll of ace the team desperately needed. He won eight straight
decisions in the spring but tailed off over the final two months
and couldn't avoid his fifth loss in his six starts, though he
exited to a warm ovation.



"I thought he had an exceptional season," Hurdle said of
Burnett. "He took ownership of the trade, the career, the
opportunity to re-ignite himself."



NOTES: The Pirates drew 2,091, 918 to PNC Park this season, the
second-highest total in team history. The average attendance of
26,149 was up from 23,956 in 2011 ... The Braves will start RHP
Kris Medlen (10-1, 1.57 ERA) Friday against Kyle Lohse (16-3,
2.86) ... The Pirates open the 2013 season at home on April 1
against the Chicago Cubs.

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