It was a routine pop-up, the kind Chipper Jones usually catches with his eyes closed.
Instead, the ball drifted beyond his glove, Jones staggering after it in a futile lunge. The Atlanta Braves' third baseman covered his head with his glove, an embarrassed grin on his face, as if to say, "OK, I'm not perfect."
Maybe not. But he wasn't too far from it against the New York Mets.
Homering four times in a three-game sweep, Jones almost single-handedly turned the NL East showdown into a rout. On Thursday, his three-run shot was the key blow in Atlanta's 6-3 victory, making it easy to laugh off the meaningless fielding gaffe.
"Besides that play," Jones said, "it was a pretty perfect series for us."
This is turning out to be the best of seasons for Jones, who has strong credentials to capture his first MVP award. He is hitting .322 with 45 homers, 105 RBIs, 114 runs, 120 walks and 24 stolen bases.
"There's still some games left, but he's the MVP right now," winning pitcher Greg Maddux (19-8) said.
The Mets, who came to Atlanta only one game back in the East but departed with a four-game deficit and only nine to play. The Mets still lead the idle Cincinnati Reds by two games in the NL wild-card race.
The teams have three more games next week at Shea Stadium.
Disgruntled Yanks speak with bats
NEW YORK -- Even in winning clubhouses, there can be discontent.
The New York Yankees completed a sweep of the Chicago White Sox and moved a step closer to clinching the American League East title with a 5-2 victory, and two players who were annoyed with manager Joe Torre provided the big hits.
Tino Martinez, rested Sunday in Cleveland, took offense at Torre's assessment that he was "mentally worn down." When Torre floated the idea of another "rest" against left-hander Jim Parque, Martinez convinced Torre to write in his name. Martinez's two-run home run in the third proved the difference for Roger Clemens (14-9).
"I want to play every day," said Martinez, hitting .257 with 26 home runs and 97 RBI. "But sometimes, when I'm not swinging the bat well, I guess you have to go with it and give me a day off."
The Yankees need one more win or an Oakland loss to make the postseason for the fifth straight year. They also took a five-game lead in the AL East over Boston. New York's magic number to win the division for the third time in four years is six.
Scott Brosius, after sitting out two games he wanted to play, contributed two hits, including an RBI single.
Brosius returned Tuesday after a week in Oregon for the funeral of his father, Maury Brosius. He wanted to get right back into the lineup, but Torre kept him out two more days, saying he was concerned about Brosius' conditioning.
A frustrated Brosius filled out a Yankees tryout evaluation form and dropped it on Torre's desk.
"I was kind of poking fun at the situation," Brosius said. "They wanted me to get on the field and do the skills."
Brosius checked the "excellent" box for every category on the form except attitude, for which he checked "poor." Thursday, Brosius (.251, 14 home runs, 66 RBI) went 2 for 3.
"I wasn't too thrilled with not playing, I guess," Brosius said. "But it turned out to be a good decision."
Martinez, a .290 hitter his first three seasons in New York, and Brosius, who hit .300 with 98 RBI last year, are having down seasons.
Wild cards trumped
For more than two weeks, the Baltimore Orioles delivered a performance fit for a world champion, but no one expected it to last forever.
The Oakland Athletics, who still have something tangible at stake in the waning weeks of the season, jetted in for Thursday's rain-makeup doubleheader and promptly put an end to the Orioles' 13-game winning streak with a 9-6 victory in the first game before a sparse crowd at Camden Yards.
The Orioles needed a sweep to set a franchise record with 15 consecutive wins, but had to settle for a 12-4 victory in the nightcap, which featured four doubles by Albert Belle.
"We've played very well up to this point," said manager Ray Miller. "Nothing like getting in at 5 a.m. in the middle of a journey to Boston, but that's what you have to do."
That's about what the A's had to do, too. They had to fly in from Oakland on the way to a potentially pivotal series in Texas to make up two rainouts.
"It's very disappointing. We have to win every game now," said Omar Olivares, who took the loss in the nightcap. "If we had won this one, we would have been in pretty good shape. Now we've got to go to Texas and basically sweep if we want to have a chance."
The only good news for the A's was that Boston reliever Rod Beck blew his first save since joining the Red Sox three weeks ago, giving up three runs in the ninth in a 7-5 loss to Toronto.
The Blue Jays staved off elimination from the postseason, which will happen with one more loss or one more Red Sox victory. The Red Sox have a magic number of six in the AL wild-card race over the Athletics.
There was one bit of good news for the Orioles: Cal Ripken underwent successful back surgery in Cleveland, and general manager Frank Wren said he expected the third baseman play next opening day.
The Blue Jays announced that first baseman Carlos Delgado will miss the rest of the season with a broken leg.
Decade ending with Grace note
CHICAGO -- Lou Boudreau. Richie Ashburn. Roberto Clemente. Pete Rose. Robin Yount. And in a few weeks, maybe, Mark Grace.
With 1,744 hits in the 1990s and nine games left, Grace may join the Hit King and the four Hall of Famers on that list of decade hits leaders.
"I'd like to get it. I'd like to get the most hits, the most doubles. That'd be nice," said Grace, who led Rafael Palmeiro of the Texas Rangers by one hit after getting two and driving in three runs in an 8-5 victory Thursday over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Grace is hitting .300 for the ninth time (.307) in 11 seasons. Sammy Sosa had two hits and drove in his 136th run, but did not homer.
Around the horn
Tony Clark and Juan Encarnacion each had two RBIs to help the Tigers beat the Indians, 7-5, despite homers by Roberto Alomar, Travis Fryman, Wil Cordero and Jim Thome. . . . The Dodgers beat the Giants, 5-3, clinching a tie for the NL West title for the Arizona Diamondbacks.. . . . Ron Belliard homered and drove in four runs and Jeromy Burnitz drew four walks and scored each time for the Brewers in an 11-6 victory over the Phillies. . . . Rookie A.J. Burnett (4-2) won his second straight start as the Marlins nipped the Expos, 2-1. . . . Dissident umpires began collect signatures to decertify their union and start a new one in an effort to oust union head Richie Phillips. . . . Seattle was granted the 2001 All-Star Game. . . . Jon Garland allowed only two unearned runs in 7 2/3 innings as the Charlotte Knights beat the Vancouver Canadians, 4-2, taking a 2-1 advantage in the best-of-five Triple A World Series. Game Four is tonight in Las Vegas (11:30, ESPN2).