The new one-game playoff meeting between the two Wild Card winners in the National League took place Friday night (Oct. 5) between the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals. It was a wild game starting a couple innings in.
First, the Cardinals were able to get a lead on two unearned runs that stemmed from an error by MLB veteran Chipper Jones, who is retiring after this season and therefore is playing in his last game if the Braves lose. And Jones was not the only error in the game — the Braves, who were the best fielding team in the National League this year, committed three errors on the night.
Secondly, it appeared as though the Braves took the lead later when a throw to first hit the runner and careened off to the right field foul area, letting two runs score. However, the baserunner was on the infield grass when he was hit by the throw and that’s runner interference. He was called out and all runners had to return to their bases.
It was the right call by the officiating crew, but it certainly did not please the Braves fans. So they were perhaps already spoiling for a fight when the eighth inning rolled around.
In the eighth inning, the Braves had runners on first and second when Andrelton Simmons popped up to the left side. Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma backed up quite a ways to catch the ball, then appeared to decide to let left fielder Matt Holliday take it and the ball dropped in between the shortstop and outfielder.
That should have let the bases be loaded, as Simmons’ pop-up was not caught and the runners could advance. But one of the umpires called the infield fly rule, which is a rule in place to prevent infielders from purposely dropping a pop-up when there are less than two outs in order to turn a double or triple play.
When the rule is invoked, it means the batter is automatically out, thereby only letting the fielding team get one out. However, the rule also requires that the infielder be able to get to the ball with “ordinary effort,” even if the ball is not caught or the ball is caught by an outfield or the ball is not even in the actual infield. Additionally, the umpire in this game waited quite awhile before invoking the infield fly rule.
Needless to say, going from bases loaded with one out to runners on second and third with two outs did not sit well with the Braves fans and the game endured a length delay while grounds crew members cleaned up all the garbage the fans threw out onto the field.
It certainly was not lacking in drama, but not exactly the type of drama you want to see in a playoff game. Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez is playing the game under protest, so MLB awaits word on the ruling. However, the under protest rule states, “No protest shall ever be permitted on judgment decisions by the umpire.” The infield fly rule is regarded as a “judgment call” by the umpires, so it is unlikely the protest will make much difference.
UPDATE: Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said in a post-game interview that he understands the protest to have been denied before play resume.