In a game that will be remembered for a very long time, a terrible call by an umpire and the fans' unruly reaction will overshadow Chipper Jones' last game and of the awful Braves' defense that threw the game away. Jones, who will end up in Cooperstown in a half a dozen years, was part of his team's problem in this Wild Card game with the Cardinals.The Braves, perhaps the second or best team in the National League, is now gone from the post season after one game and the Cardinals will move on to the NLDS. What should have been a moment of glory for the new MLB post season ended up as a fiasco.
The crazy bottom of the eighth inning will be what is remembered about this game. The Braves were down by three runs with one out. They had two runners on, one on first and one on second. Andrelton Simmons lifted a lazy pop fly toward left field. The Cardinals' Pete Kozma drifted back. Matt Holliday drifted in. Kozma raised his hands as if he had the call. Once he did so, the umpire on the left field line called the infield fly rule. But Kozma was ten to fifteen feet from the ball and gave up on it. The ball fell in front of Holliday. The Braves and the home crowd thought the Braves had a gift and a bases loaded situation with pinch hitter, Brian McCann, waiting to hit. But it wasn't bases loaded with one out. The umpires decision made it two outs with runners on first and second.
The problem with the decision by the umpire was twofold. First, he assumed that Kozma had an easy play. He did not. Kozma was not under the ball. The second mistake was the lateness of the call. An infield fly has to be called immediately to give the base runners the opportunity to tag up and decide whether they can go or not on the play. The base runners were not allowed that opportunity. It was the worst kind of bad call because it cannot be reviewed and it cannot be overturned because it was a judgement call.
The call infuriated Braves fans and sadly, they decided to throw things on the field in Disco Demolition Day-type numbers. The game was delayed for at least twenty minutes to clear the field and ensure everyone's safety.
The call and the fans' reaction will overshadow the fact that the Braves played a terrible game. The Braves took a two-run lead on a David Ross homer in the second. Kris Medlen was cruising and everyone in the Braves dugout had to feel good about their chances at that point. Then, in his last game ever, future Hall of Fame player, Chipper Jones, cost his team three runs and the ballgame.
Carlos Beltran singled to start the top of the fourth. But Matt Holliday hit a sharp grounder that Jones backhanded nicely. It was an easy double-play ball. Instead, Jones threw the ball into right field and everyone was safe.
The error did two things. First, it stripped away the aura created around Medlen and opened a door for the Cardinals. Their best RBI guy, Allan Craig did what he usually does and hit a double to score both base runners. Craig's double would have been a harmless two-out job and the following David Freese fly ball would have ended the inning. Instead, it scored the third run and put the Braves down, 3-2.
In the sixth inning, Medlen allowed Holliday to hit a solo homer. That should have made the score, 2-1 Braves. Instead, it was 4-2 Cardinals. The embarrassing play of the Braves continued in the seventh.
A Dan Uggla throwing error allowed a base runner to reach second. The base runner was bunted over to third and the Braves brought the infield in. Pete Kozma hit a grounder to short and was tailor-made for Simmons to get the runner out at the plate. Instead, the youngster bobbled the ball and in his panic, threw the ball away at home. Kozma ended up on second and scored on a single. Two more free runs.
That set the stage for the eighth inning and the terrible happenings there. But seriously, bad call or not, this was a fiasco for the Braves. Chipper Jones went out with the most costly gaffe of his career and then the Braves fans took away any kind of dignity that should have afforded the end of a great career.
Not lost in all of this is the charmed existence of the St. Louis Cardinals, the same team that feasted on a plethora of good fortune to go from wild card to World Series champs last season. That monster is still alive and that is not good news for the rest of the National League playoff teams.
Despite it all, thank you, Chipper Jones, for the memories. There were a million more good things you did in your career that overwhelm the way this stinker ended.