DRILL Jones secures first batting title, tops both leagues
HOUSTON — Chipper Jones walked in his only at-bat against Houston on Sunday and earned his first National League batting title, edging St. Louis' Albert Pujols.
Jones finished with a career-high .364 average; Pujols went 1-for-2 on Sunday to finish at .357. Jones' average was the highest for an NL batting champ since Barry Bonds won with a .370 average in 2002.
"It's a tremendous feather in the cap, from an individual standpoint," Jones said. " It's one of those things that brings instant credibility. Hopefully, I already had it around the league. But once you have the label of batting champion, you're respected and recognized by that."
Jones drew a pinch- hit walk against Jose Valverde in the ninth inning Sunday and fell just shy of Mickey Mantle's season record for a switch hitter. Mantle batted .365 in 1957.
"When I was growing up, there were two guys that I wanted to be mentioned with, when I was done playing — Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray," Jones said. "I'm starting to reach that kind of company now and I'm honored and humbled to be there."
The 36- year- old Jones is the oldest switch- hitting batting champion in history. Bill Mueller was 32 when he won the AL crown with Boston in 2003. Mueller was also the last switch hitter to win a batting title, though Jones is the first switch hitter to take the NL title since Terry Pendleton won in 1991 with Atlanta. Pendleton is now the Braves' hitting coach.
" Obviously, I would trade a batting title for being in the playoffs," Jones said. "But being in the batting race the last couple of years has given me a lot of motivation to play the season out."
The Braves also finished last season in Houston and Jones went 0- for- 3 in the final game to lose the batting title to Colorado's Matt Holliday. Jones finished with a career-best .337 average, but Holliday hit .340.
Jones said he didn't think about the batting title as much this season and hit better as a result.
" I think it takes going through it," he said. " I put a lot of pressure on myself last year, trying to scrape out a hit every single at- bat. This year, I was a lot more relaxed. I really didn't care about it, or I mean, I took that approach and it seemed to work out."
Jones ranked 2007 as the best hitting season of his career. He hit 29 home runs and 102 RBIs, even after missing 19 games with bruised hands and another three with a strained oblique muscle.
This season, Jones hit 22 homers and drove in 75 runs after missing 14 games in July and August with a strained left hamstring. He's been out of the starting lineup since Sept. 21 with right shoulder inflammation.
"This year was not as good, because the run production and the power numbers aren't there," he said. "I missed quite a few games, but I hit in the middle of the lineup. I'm expected to produce runs. The homer total and the RBI totals are a little low."
Then again, he built such a big lead on Pujols that he was able to start savoring the batting title early.
" I knew for the last four or five days since I wasn't playing," he said. "I had a couple of days to sit back and enjoy it. It's one of my crowning accomplishments."
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