Chipper Jones' career ends with a thud

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Chipper Jones' career ends with a thud

From Comcast SportsNetATLANTA (AP) -- Chipper Jones didn't want to go out this way.The Atlanta Braves third baseman made a crucial throwing error and never hit a ball out of the infield Friday, his brilliant career ending with a 6-3 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in a wild-card game that turned messy when fans littered the field after a disputed call by the umpires.Don't blame the umps, Jones said."I'm the one to blame."In the fourth inning, with the Braves leading 2-0 on David Ross' homer, Carlos Beltran blooped a single to right for the first hit of the game off Kris Medlen. But the Braves got what they needed from Matt Holliday, a hard-hit grounder to third base that Jones fielded with a nifty backhanded grab."A tailor-made double play" he called it.Only one problem. Jones' throw to second base sailed over the head of Dan Uggla, rolling out into right field. The Cardinals wound up scoring three runs and led the rest of the way.Turns out, that was only ball Jones got out of the infield all night. He went 1 for 5 at the plate, getting a generous call from the official scorer on his final at-bat -- a grounder to second baseman Daniel Descalso, whose leaping throw to first pulled Allen Craig off the bag. He couldn't get hit foot on the bag ahead of the 40-year-old Jones, hustling until the end.He lumbered around to third on Freddie Freeman's ground-rule double, but that was where his career ended.Uggla grounded out to end the Braves' season -- and a big league career that started in 1993. Jones spent it all with the Braves, wining a World Series title in '95, an MVP award in '99, and an NL batting crown four years ago. He'll go down as one of the greatest-switch hitters in baseball history, finishing with 468 homers and a .303 average.Jones was just crossing home plate as the Cardinals began their celebration. He kept right on running toward the dugout.It was over."I wanted to come out here and play well," Jones said. "My heart is broken not for me. My heard is broken for my teammates and my coaching staff, and all these fans that have been so great to us this year."Jones drove to Turner Field for the final time as a player with his mother, father and two of his young sons.He was amazed how calm he felt."I turned around and told my dad, This is why I know I'm ready to go. I'm not even nervous,'" Jones said before the game, with 8-year-old Shea and 7-year-old Tristan standing nearby, both wearing red Braves jerseys.But Jones sure looked shaky on that throw, which ruined what should have been another scoreless inning for Medlen.Jones, who announced his retirement in spring training, had envisioned plenty of ways his career might end."This is not one of them, I can assure you that," he said. "It's just one of those things that happens from time to time. You have a game defensively where you don't make plays that you should. You give good teams extra outs and it ends up biting you."The Braves made two more throwing errors in the seventh, handing the Cardinals three runs and a 6-2 lead without getting a ball out of the infield.Atlanta attempted to rally in the eighth, putting two runners aboard with one out. Andrelton Simmons appeared to load the bases when his pop fly to short left field dropped on a mix-up between two fielders, but the umpires called him out on the infield fly rule. That enraged the crowd of 52,631, which littered the field with debris and caused a 19-minute delay.Jones watched the ugly display from the safety of the Braves dugout."Momma didn't raise no fool," he quipped. "You never want to see something get violent like that. I know one thing for sure -- you won't be able to say that Braves fans don't care."Batting cleanup, Jones had a forgettable night at the plate. He struck out in the first. He grounded out with a runner aboard to end the third. He led off the sixth with a popup. He grounded out with runners at second and third to end the seventh, squandering a chance to pull the Braves within a run.Finally, he came up in the ninth with two outs and no one aboard.Before stepping into the box, Jones pulled off his helmet and used it to salute the crowd, most of whom hung around to see his last swing."Chipper! Chipper! Chipper!" they roared.When it was done, a small batch of fans remained behind the Braves dugout, keeping up the chant in hopes Jones might come out for one last curtain call.He never did.It was over."I'll be OK," Jones said. "When you walk out of here knowing that you brought it every day, it makes walking away on the final day a little bit easier."

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All signs point towards Boston Celtics being major players in NBA free agency, trade market

All signs point towards Boston Celtics being major players in NBA free agency, trade market

The Boston Celtics have what some might call an embarrassment of riches between a deep roster that made the Eastern Conference Finals, many draft picks - including this year's No. 1 - and money to spend in free agency. According to multiple reports, they plan to go big this offseason as they aim to reach the next level.

CSNNE's A. Sherrod Blakely reported on Friday that Boston wants to acquire another star in free agency or by trade. Here is what he wrote:

Multiple league sources have told CSNNE.com in recent weeks that the Celtics are focused on landing an All-Star caliber talent in the frontcourt.

That should add legs to the rumors they will pursue Gordon Hayward this summer. An All-Star small forward, Hayward will be one of the top free agents available and happened to play in college under Celtics coach Brad Stevens.

[RELATED: Lonzo Ball turned down Celtics, but will listen to... Sixers?]

Also set to hit the open market will be other frontcourt stars like Blake Griffin and Paul Millsap. But they could acquire one via trade with guys like Paul George, Jimmy Butler and Carmelo Anthony already having been linked to them in rumors over the past few months.

All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas, for one, seems to want his Celtics to go the free agency route and he is ready to make a recruiting pitch. This is what he told ESPN:

"We need the best possible player that's gonna help us win, and I'm with that," Thomas said. "Anything Danny [Ainge] and this organization need me to do to help bring even more talent to this city, I'm all for that. I want to win a championship and being so close to getting to the Finals, that makes you want it that much more."

The Celtics are in an enviable spot with many ways to get better this offseason. And running the show is one of the best GMs in the business in Ainge. 

Acquiring stars is easier said than done, but the Celtics look like the team to watch this summer as they appear ready to get very aggressive in trying to improve. The Wizards will certainly be paying attention as they do their own work to get better.

[RELATED: Durant says don't blame him for lopsided NBA Playoffs]

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Scouting the Stanley Cup Finals: Possible Caps' free agent targets from the Pittsburgh Penguins

Scouting the Stanley Cup Finals: Possible Caps' free agent targets from the Pittsburgh Penguins

The Stanley Cup Finals begin on Monday. Instead of gearing up for Game 1, however, the Washington Capitals are gearing up for the offseason. While fans in Washington will be watching in the hopes of seeing the Pittsburgh Penguins lose, Cap scouts will be watching to see if there is anyone they can add to their ranks next season to bolster the roster.

The Penguins are a team loaded with talent as evidenced by the fact that they are playing in the finals for the second straight year looking to be the first team to repeat as Cup champions since 1997-98. Like the Caps, they also have a handful of expiring contracts.

Is there anyone wearing the black and gold who could help the Caps next season? Josh Archibald, Brian Dumoulin, Conor Sheary, Justin Schultz and Oskar Sundqvist are all restricted free agents meaning most if not all will be off limits to Washington, but there are still plenty of unrestricted free agents they could perhaps target this summer.

Nick Bonino

Position: C
Age at the start of the 2017-18 season: 29
Last contract: 3 years for $5.7 million, $1.9 million cap hit
Season stats: 18 goals, 19 assists in 80 games

It was Pittsburgh’s HBK line (Carl Hagelin, Bonino, Phil Kessel) that really exposed Washington’s lack of bottom-six scoring depth. As Bonino was the guy centering that line and given the fact that scoring depth is still an issue for the Caps, you would think he would be an enticing piece for Washington to potentially add. If there is one position in which Washington appears set, however, it is center. Unless something unexpected happens with Evgeny Kuznetsov’s restricted free agency or someone is plucked in the expansion draft, the Caps will return Nicklas Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Lars Eller and Jay Beagle next season, all four of their centers from 2016-17. If they lose one, Bonino could be a potential target for a depth center, but otherwise he is not a great fit.

RELATED: Orlov in talks with KHL team, but it probably doesn't mean much

Matt Cullen

Position: C
Age at the start of the 2017-18 season: 40
Last contract: 1 year for $1 million, $1 million cap hit
Season stats: 13 goals, 18 assists in 72 games

Cullen has been an incredibly productive fourth line player for Pittsburgh given his age, but the Caps need to get younger and faster. I have a hard time believing Cullen will not hang up the skates after this season, but even if he doesn’t he is not someone Washington should pursue.

Trevor Daley

Position: D
Age at the start of the 2017-18 season: 33
Last contract: 6 years for $19.8 million, $3.3 million cap hit
Season stats: 5 goals, 14 assists in 56 games

The Capitals have four defensemen they will need to protect in the expansion draft in John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt, but if they take the option to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie – which they are expected to do given their offensive depth – they risk losing a significant blue liner and someone the team had penciled in for a top-four role next season. Bringing in a player like Daley in free agency could soften the blow. Daley has proven to be a key piece of the championship puzzle for the Penguins, but let’s not forget how much he struggled in Chicago ultimately prompting the trade to Pittsburgh. He is someone who needs the right fit to be productive. Given the success he has had in Pittsburgh, I have to imagine he will try to remain a Penguin. If he does become available, the question becomes how much will he cost? Washington may be in need of a top four defensemen, but they may not have much money to spend and, at 33 years old, it is fair to wonder just how long Daley can continue playing well enough to justify that big of a role. Age, price and fit are too many question marks for my taste.

Ron Hainsey

Position: D
Age at the start of the 2017-18 season: 36
Last contract: 3 years for $8.5 million, $2.83 million cap hit
Season stats:4 goals, 13 assists in 72 games

In addition to Washington’s top two defensive pairs, the third pairing is also a question mark for next season. Are Madison Bowey or Christian Djoos ready to step into a full-time role? Will the Caps consider buying out the remainder of Brooks Orpik’s contract? Depending on the answers to these questions, Washington will need to find one, maybe two defensemen for their third pair. If the Caps want to plug a prospect onto the bottom pair, they would do well to pair him with a veteran presence to help show him the ropes and make up for inevitable rookie mistakes. Could Hainsey be that guy? The only way this move would make sense is if the team bought out Orpik and signed Hainsey as a cheaper alternative. The more likely scenario is that they keep Orpik and use him in that third-pair mentor role.

Chris Kunitz

Position: LW
Age at the start of the 2017-18 season: 38
Last contract: 3 years for $11.55 million, $3.85 million cap hit
Season stats: 9 goals, 20 assists in 71 games

Kunitz was the hero of the Eastern Conference Final as he scored twice in Game 7 including the overtime winner. Do you know the last time Kunitz scored before Thursday’s game? February. Sure, you could argue he has veteran leadership, but so does Justin Williams. Kunitz is older than Williams, far less productive and even had a bigger cap hit this season. If you like what Kunitz could potentially bring to Washington, then re-sign Williams.

Chad Ruhwedel

Position: D
Age at the start of the 2017-18 season: 27
Last contract: 1 year for $575,000, $575,000 cap hit
Season stats: 2 goals, 8 assists in 34 games

With Taylor Chorney still under contract for next season, the Caps have no need for another No. 7.

Mark Streit

Position: D
Age at the start of the 2017-18 season: 39
Last contract: 4 years for $21 million, $5.25 million cap hit
Season stats: 6 goals, 21 assists in 68 games

If the Caps are in need of a veteran defenseman to anchor their third pairing, Hainsey would be the better option from Pittsburgh over the 39-year-old Streit.

MORE CAPITALS: 20 questions: Should the Caps re-sign Williams?