ATLANTA — Chipper Jones had another birthday to remember, right down to teammate Brian McCann’s belly flop of a slide.
Jones celebrated his 36th birthday by going 3-for-3, including a homer, to lead Atlanta past the NL East-leading Florida Marlins 7-4 on Thursday night.
For his career on April 24, he’s hitting .500 (18-of-36) with four homers, eight RBIs and 10 runs.
“I always feel like I need to do something cool on my birthday,” the third baseman said. “Hit a homer or have three hits. I would have taken either one, to be honest. Today, I got ‘em both. It was awesome.”
Not that it’s anything new this season. Jones raised the best average in the majors to .442, with seven homers and 20 RBIs.
“Every day has been his birthday,” manager Bobby Cox joked.
While Jones got everything from a Dale Earnhardt video box set to an autographed guitar from country stars Rascal Flatts, the best present of all might have been a surprise from McCann, the Braves’ slow-running catcher.
In the eighth, he drove one off the wall in right, the ball bouncing away from Jeremy Hermida, and flopped into third with something resembling a headfirst slide for his first career triple. Jones nearly buckled over in the dugout, laughing at McCann’s inelegant work on the basepaths.
“That was just pure poetry in motion,” Jones said, still chuckling about it in the clubhouse. “That’s pretty much how Pete Rose used to draw it up.”
McCann’s hustle set up an insurance run. Jeff Francoeur followed with a deep drive to center for the sacrifice fly, his third RBI of the game.
“I owe McCann a beer,” said Francoeur, a friend of the catcher’s since childhood.
McCann’s triple was his first since he had two for Double-A Mississippi in 2005.
“There’s no cameras?” he said after arriving at his locker. “I may never get another triple in my life, so I’m excited.”
Is your base-running underrated?
“No,” McCann replied. “I’m as slow as it looks.”
Chuck James (2-1) allowed four runs in five innings, but lasted long enough for the win. Jorge Campillo pitched two scoreless innings and Manny Acosta worked the final two for his second save.
Josh Willingham homered and drove in all four Florida runs.
“It was good to have a good game,” Willingham said, “but I wanted to win. We didn’t win, so it’s not so sweet.”
Atlanta jumped on rookie Burke Badenhop (0-2) in the first after the Marlins went ahead 1-0 in the top half on Willingham’s run-scoring single.
Badenhop, who was born in Atlanta, received a rude homecoming from the Braves. With one out, Yunel Escobar, Jones and Mark Teixeira hit consecutive singles to tie it up. McCann walked to load the bases, and Francoeur pulled off a nifty bit of hitting with an opposite-field double just inside the right-field foul line to bring home two more runs. Matt Diaz made it 5-1 with a two-run single right back up the middle.
Jones homered in the second, a towering, two-out shot to center with the bases empty.
Badenhop, who started the season at Double-A Carolina, lasted five innings, giving up eight hits and walking one. He didn’t strike out anyone.
“It was pretty tough,” he said of his third big league start. “Giving up a five-spot after the team gives you a lead, that is pretty rough.”
With his team down by five, Willingham tried to bring the Marlins back. He doubled in a run in the third and followed with his sixth homer of the season in the fifth, a two-run shot that just cleared the left-field wall.
The Braves’ defense kept Willingham from a fifth RBI. On his double, left fielder Diaz hit Escobar with a throw from the corner, and the shortstop wheeled around to make a pinpoint relay to catcher McCann for the tag on Hermida.
James also benefited from a nice catch against the center field wall by Gregor Blanco.
“The defense was just outstanding,” James said. “When you get that kind of run support, you at least want to go five. I was able to battle through it.”
But it might be his last win in the majors for a while. With a couple of off days coming up and Tom Glavine scheduled to leave the disabled list on Tuesday, the Braves plan to option James back to Triple-A Richmond before their weekend series against the New York Mets.
Notes: Atlanta pitchers have yet to get a hit this season, going 0-of-39. The Braves are the last NL team without a hit from a pitcher. ... Willingham’s career high for RBIs in a game is six. ... Braves LHP Mike Gonzalez pitched a perfect inning at extended spring training, his first outing since reconstructive elbow surgery some 11 months ago.