ATLANTA — Talk about a wild card.
This one was just plain wild.
Chipper Jones played his final game. The Atlanta fans turned Turner Field into a trash heap after a disputed infield fly. And the St. Louis Cardinals did what they always seem to do in October.
Celebrated another postseason triumph.
Matt Holliday homered and the Cardinals rallied from an early deficit, taking advantage of three Atlanta throwing errors – the most crucial of them by the retiring Jones – to beat the Braves 6-3 in a winner-take-all wild-card playoff Friday.
In the eighth inning, there was more crazy throwing, this time by an irate crowd that littered the field to protest an umpiring decision that went against the Braves. The Cardinals fled for cover, the Braves protested and the game was halted for 19 minutes while workers cleared up all the beer cups, popcorn holders and other debris.
St. Louis manager Mike Matheny was asked if he’d ever seen anything like it.
“Not in the United States,” he said.
Major League Baseball executive Joe Torre said the protest was denied. St. Louis advanced to face Washington in the best-of-five division round, beginning Sunday at Busch Stadium.
The Braves are done for this season, the recipients of another heartbreaking loss in the playoffs.
The 40-year-old Jones is all done, period. He managed an infield hit in his final at-bat but threw away a double play ball in the fourth, which led to a three-run inning that wiped out Atlanta’s 2-0 lead behind Kris Medlen.
“Ultimately, I feel I’m the one to blame,” Jones said.
But this one-and-done game will be remembered for the eighth, when a disputed call on a fly ball that dropped in short left field cost the Braves a chance at extending Jones’ career.
The Braves thought they had the bases loaded with one out after the ball fell between two fielders. But left-field umpire Sam Holbrook called Andrelton Simmons out under the infield fly rule – even though the ball landed at least 50 feet beyond the dirt. When the sellout crowd of 52,631 fans realized what had happened, and a second out go up on the scoreboard, they littered the field with whatever they could get their hands on.
Holbrook defended the call, even after he looked at the replay.
“Once that fielder established himself, he got ordinary effort,” he said, referring to shortstop Pete Kozma calling for the ball, then veering away at the last moment as left fielder Holliday drifted in. “That’s when the call was made.”
“I was under it,” Kozma said. “I should have made the play. I took my eyes off it. I was camped under it.”
Braves president John Schuerholz apologized for the actions of the crowd, saying a “small group of those fans acted in a manner that was uncharacteristic and unacceptable.”
“When cans are flying past your head, yeah, a little bit,” Holbrook said.
The stoppage only delayed the inevitable. When play resumed, Brian McCann walked to load the bases but Michael Bourn struck out to end the threat. Dan Uggla grounded out with two aboard in the ninth to finish it, leading to one more wave of trash throwing as the umps scurried off the field – probably feeling a lot like those replacement NFL refs who caught so much grief.
The infield fly is a complicated rule, designed to prevent infielders from intentionally dropping a popup with more than one runner on base and perhaps get an extra out.
No one could ever remember it being applied like this. And, after past postseasons dotted by contested calls, this play will certainly lead to another slew of October cries for more instant replay.
This is what some fans feared about a one-game playoff – a disputed call determining a team’s fate for an entire season.
Jones refused to pin this loss on the umps.
“That one play didn’t cost us the game. Three errors cost us the game,” he said. “We just dug ourselves too big a hole.”