The St. Louis Cardinals beat the Atlanta Braves in the first ever Wild Card game Friday and are headed to the NLDS to face the Washington Nationals. As significant at that news is, the outcome of the game was unfortunately not the big story of the night.
See if you can keep up: Jason Heyward reached over the top of the wall and hauled in what looked like a Yadier Molina home run; in one Braves at bat, a borderline pitch went David Ross’s way, the next pitch time was called during Kyle Lohse’s windup and Ross swung and missed at what was called no pitch, and the next pitch was hit over the wall for a two-run homer; Andrelton Simmons was called out when he ran inside the first baseline after bunting and Lohse’s throw hit him; with two on and one out in the eighth, Simmons popped into shallow left and Pete Kozma missed an easy catch, but because the ump made an at-best questionable invocation of the infield fly rule the batter was out—turning bases loaded, one out into second and third, two out; Braves fans responded to the play by littering the field with garbage, causing a 20-minute delay in the game; Braves manager Fredi Gonzales protested the game but because of the nature of the game the umps had to call Joe Torre during the delay to get a ruling on the protest; the Braves committed the fewest errors as a team in the regular season but committed three in this game; the Cardinals outscored the Braves 6-3, but the Braves outhit the Cardinals 12-6.
Did you get all that?
For whatever reason, the Cards managed to come out on top of the trash heap and will move on to start the NLDS at Busch Stadium Sunday against the Nationals. It certainly wasn’t a pretty win, even taking away all the absurdity, mental lapses, and misplays in the field. Lohse pitched well, but the bullpen allowed the Braves to get on base in each of the final three innings of the game. Mike Matheny also made a couple of questionable moves: bringing Lance Lynn in for just a third of an inning in a 4-2 game that was far from won; and pinch-running for David Freese with Adron Chambers in the 6th inning, then having Descalso sacrifice bunt Chambers to 3rd base. The Cardinals did enough to win without the questionable calls…but not by much.
Also lost in all the craziness was the end of Chipper Jones’ career. He did get a hit in his final at bat—which came with two outs in the 9th inning—but was responsible for the Braves’ first error, too. All in all, it was in no way a fitting end to a remarkable playing career. Although there is a hint of irony that his swan song was a loss to the Cardinals in the postseason, much like Ozzie Smith’s final game was a loss in Game 7 of the 1996 NLCS to the Atlanta Braves. Incidentally, the Braves have not beaten the Cardinals in four postseason meetings since.
Unfortunately, what the game will most be remembered for is the infield fly call and the madness that followed. Braves fans were irate, and maybe deservedly so. But their actions at Turner Field were reprehensible, dangerous, and ignorant. Ugliness like that happens infrequently, but when it does it really illustrates how ridiculous a herd of emotional human beings can be. When it comes down to it, all that play cost the Braves was an out and a base runner. The inning did not end, no runs came off the Braves’ side of the scoreboard, and no runs were added to the Cardinals’ side. The two runners that were already on base even advanced on the play. I’d hate to see what would happen in Atlanta if they were on the wrong side of a close play at the plate…kind of like the one where they beat the Pirates on a bad call to end that 19 inning game in 2011.
Regardless, the Cardinals survive to play another day. If the 2011 run was magical, then Friday night felt like it had black magic in play. The really scary part? The playoffs are just getting started…