The Atlanta Braves are the first casualty of the one-game playoff. The St. Louis Cardinals are the first beneficiary of the one-game playoff. Somehow this seems fitting. Just how it went down, though, was wilder and more unexpected than anyone could have imagined.
The Cardinals won the first Wild Card playoff in major-league history, taking advantage of Braves errors and slugging their way into the National League Division Series. But that's not the story. With runners on first and second in the bottom of the eighth and the Braves down 6-3, Andrelton Simmons hit a pop-up into shallow left field, and it fell between left fielder Matt Holliday and shortstop Pete Kozma, which should have loaded the bases with one out.
It should have, except the left-field umpire, Sam Holbrook, stationed in the outfield, called the infield-fly rule. Here's where the ball landed, and here's where Holbrook was:
More egregious than the position of Holbrook and the ball: the late timing of the call. The umpire needs to call it immediately in that situation. Holbrook did not. Simmons was automatically out, and the runners advanced to second and third. Braves fans were not pleased:
Play stopped for around 20 minutes as crews cleaned up the bottles, cans, cups, babies, severed limbs, and physical manifestations of pure disgust. Manager Fredi Gonzalez protested the game, which led to this cool hand signal:
Chipper Jones got an infield single in the bottom of the ninth, and Freddie Freeman hit an automatic double to put runners in scoring position with two outs, but Dan Uggla grounded out for the last out. The fans were torn between honoring the career of one of the best players they have ever watched, and raging at one of the worst calls they had ever seen. A few of them decided to rage, and more debris rained on the field.
Amazing. After 163 games, the season ended in a firestorm of nonsense for the Atlanta Braves, and the Cardinals will host the Nationals in the first two games of a Division Series.
This is like Memento, with the end coming first. Here's how the beginning of the game went:
Atlanta scored first, turning a strikeout in the second inning into a two-run homer from David Ross. With the magically diminutive Kris Medlen on the mound, it looked like that could be enough. And Medlen did pitch well, allowing only three hits and striking out four without walking a batter.
But pitching well is one thing. Catching and throwing well is another. And the other Braves were pretty lousy at that.
Carlos Beltran led the fourth inning off with a solid single to left. Matt Holliday followed with a grounder to Chipper Jones at third, and Jones made the last error of his Braves career, winging the ball into right field on a force attempt. With runners on first and third, Allen Craig hit a double into the left-center gap, scoring a run and putting runners on second and third with no one out. The Cardinals took advantage, turning a ground ball and a fly-out into a 3-2 lead.
Holliday mashed a solo homer in the sixth to make it 5-2, and in the seventh, the wheels really fell off. Maybe it would be more accurate to say "the thumbs fell off", as the Braves had a stretch of good ol'-fashioned thumbless baseball in the field. David Freese opened the seventh with a grounder to Dan Uggla, who bobbled it, picked it up, and threw it to Jimmy Carter behind the plate. Freese went to second, and pinch-runner Adron Chambers advanced to third on a bunt.
Pete Kozma hit a grounder to rookie Andrelton Simmons, who bobbled it and threw to Ted Turner behind the plate, with Chambers scoring. The error put Kozma on second, after which Matt Carpenter hit a chopper down the first-base line. Pitcher Johnny Venters fielded the ball, couldn't quite tag Carpenter, and Kozma came all the way around to score, making it 6-2.
The Braves made it 6-3 in the bottom of the seventh, with Jose Constanza hitting a one-out triple and scoring on Martin Prado's two-out single. Jason Heyward followed with a double that Holliday deflected to Jon Jay, which put runners on second and third with two outs. That brought up Chipper Jones.
While the P.A. guy was screwing around, looking for the music to The Natural, Chipper grounded out to second. There would be no heroics on this day. He grounded out to end the threat.
But about the calamity ...
With the bases loaded and one out, the run expectancy is just over a run-and-a-half. So it's possible the call didn't win the game for the Cardinals or lose it for the Braves.
But you know what this game will be remembered for. Goodness. Not to toot my own horn, but here's what I wrote about the Wild Card playoff last week:
The Braves get it. They're waiting around for a game. Anything can happen in a game. Mark Whiten can hit four homers in one game. Bengie Molina can hit for the cycle. A good pitch, down in the zone, can get ripped for a bases-clearing double. The worst team in baseball can score three runs against the best reliever in baseball. Every individual game has high potential for complete nonsense to occur. There's no safety net.
There was complete nonsense. There was no safety net. And the St. Louis Cardinals moved on.