Who would have thought Kris Medlen would have lost? Who would have thought that the best defensive team in all of baseball would have three errors, the first of which by retiring Chipper Jones? Who would have though a rule that no one understands would be the most memorable factor in MLB’s first Wild Card playoff game?
Not the Braves fans that delayed the game nearly 20 minutes by throwing trash on the ground.
The game, started with a David Ross two-run homer in the second inning, the Braves taking the lead 2-0. Medlen didn’t allow a hit until the fourth inning with a single to right fielder Carlos Beltran. Then the bottom fell out. It began on a routine grounder to third base. Chipper Jones picked the ball up, throwing to second baseman Dan Uggla, overthrowing him, with runners on. Errors by Uggla and rookie Andrelton Simmons also aided the St. Louis Cardinals to take the lead for good.
Mysterious calls and costly errors marked danger for the Braves. A random, but Fredi Gonzalez ordered suicide squeeze by Andrelton Simmons, cost the Braves a base runner because Simmons ran down first base on the infield; the throw to first base flew and deflected off Simmons’ helmet. An interference call was made, but Simmons was out for running out of bounds.
Then, the infamous eight inning occurred. With runners on, Andrelton Simmons hit a routine pop fly to left field. Outfielder Matt Holliday was called off (seeminly) by shortstop Pete Kozma. Kozma, whose under it, steps up, and the ball drops between them, with two runners running home. The left field umpire, Sam Holbrook, made a late call, ruling it an infield fly, Simmons was ruled out, and the runners returned to second and third. With Brian McCann up to bat pinch-hitting, he was walked. Michael Bourn struck out to follow, ending the inning.
Between this madness was the disgrace of the night, as Braves fan began throwing anything they could find onto he field, sending both teams for their dugout as field crews cleared the field during a 19 minute delay.
The Braves would play the rest of the game under protest, to which attending MLB Vice President Joe Torre swiftly denied. Torre called it the “umpire’s judgment call… you can’t uphold a protest based on that”.
The Braves, one of the worst teams in the regular season with RISP left men all over the place. The Braves were 1-for-8 in that category.
Medlen pitched a good game, allowing five runs, 2 unearned on 3 hits in 6 2/3 innings, 4 K’s and 0 BB. The stellar infield play throughout the regular season failed Medlen’s workable and winnable start. The very best in the league failed to perform, and for the first Wild Card playoff game was won by the defending World Series Champions.
Perhaps the most misunderstood stood rule in baseball (there are a lot), the call by umpire Sam Holbrook was to his interpretation.
The Infield Fly Rule (from MLB.COM) :
“An infield fly is a fair fly ball [not including a line drive nor an attempted bunt] which can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort, when first and second, or first, second and third bases are occupied, before two are out,” says Rule 2.00 in the definition of terms. “The pitcher, catcher and any outfielder who stations himself in the infield on the play shall be considered infielders for the purpose of this rule. The umpire is to rule whether the ball could ordinarily have been handled by an infielder — not by some arbitrary limitation such as the grass, or the base lines,” it says. “The umpire must rule also that a ball is an infield fly, even if handled by an outfielder, if, in the umpire’s judgment, the ball could have been as easily handled by an infielder. The infield fly is in no sense to be considered an appeal play. The umpire’s judgment must govern, and the decision should be made immediately.”
No one wanted to see Chipper Jones, now done with baseball, go out like this. With two out in the ninth inning, Jones hit a broken bat infield hit to get on base. Freddie Freeman hit a ground-rule double, leaving RISP for the ever struggling Dan Uggla. Uggla grounded to second base, as the Cardinals ran furiously off the field to the visitors dugout. As the Braves sulked, Chipper Jones looked into the crowd of 51,631 with sadness and dismay.
I looked at my television with sadness and dismay.
CHIPPER JONES on the Crowd after the Infield Fly Rule Call and the crowd, from MLB.COM:
“No, I was up under the awning. Mama didn’t raise no fool. But it’s disappointing. Any time something like that happens. Obviously, delays in the game throw everybody kind of off their game. You never want to see something get violent like that. I know one thing is for sure, you won’t be able to say that Braves fans don’t care. They came out in full force tonight, 50,000 strong. We love each and every one of them. Obviously, you don’t want to see what happened there in the eighth inning happen. But when you’ve got a Game 7 and your whole season is on the line, obviously there was a call that didn’t go that did go against the home team. Unfortunately, things like that are going to happen.”
This game is going to be remembered for all of the wrong reasons. Bad fielding, the Infield Fly Rule, and Chipper Jones’ last game as an Atlanta Brave will taint what should have been the glorious testing of the Wild Card playoff game. It will call for replay in a way that’s never been done prior to this. It will change the dynamic of the Braves organization, with Chipper leaving. Fredi Gonzalez has a lot to learn in the playoffs, and Braves fans need to get it together! Fifteen years of frustration and playoff failures doesn’t mean throwing trash on he field is ever acceptable. Fans there did not represent Atlanta sports fans well, and it’s horrible that the home team experienced that.
The Braves failure in one-and-done situations are the Cardinals gain. While the Braves have lost their last four in this situation, the Cardinals have won their last five.
This Braves fan thinks the next trade the Braves make should be someone from that team. Maybe Uggla for Holliday?
Well, there’s always pitchers and catchers reporting to make me feel better.
Information used in this article from MLB.COM and the Atlanta Journal Constitution.