Defensively, the Atlanta Braves couldn’t have been worse if they tried in Friday evening’s one-game, wild card play-in against the St. Louis Cardinals, the defending World Series champs.
Three brutal throws by the Braves infield, three errors, led to four unearned runs in a game where the Cardinals would prevail 6-3 to end the Braves season and send St. Louis into the Divisional Series against the Washington Nationals.
This game, though, will be remembered most for the eighth inning call by left field umpire Jeff Nelson and the near riot that followed.
Trailing 6-3, the Braves had one out and runners at first and second. Andrelton Simmons then lofted a fly to shallow left. St. Louis shortstop Pete Kozma drifted back as left fielder Matt Holliday moved in. Kozma clearly called for the ball but at the last second backed off and the ball fell to the ground loading the bases.
Nelson, however, called Simmons out — a late call by the way — on the infield fly rule which caused manager Fredi Gonzalez to the field to argue to no avail.
When Simmons moved from first base to the dugout and the fans realized what had happened, all hell broke loose.
A barrage of debris, cups and paper and bottles and beer cans rained on to the field causing the Atlanta Braves to head for their dugout for protection and after a few minutes the Cardinals followed suit.
The umpires huddled near second, out of harm’s way but the booing and debris kept piling up.
Finally a semblance of order was restored and the game restarted following a 19-minute delay.
Amazingly, no fan or fans attempted to storm the field and if they had a full scale riot would have enthused.
The call dominated the post-game interviews.
“We saw what happened, we saw the infield fly being called, the guys in the dugout waving and pointing,” St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. “I understand why the Braves would be frustrated, I get that.
“Our guys would have made it a whole lot easier if they had of made the play. They make that play 99 times out of 100. It just didn’t happen that time. I’m glad the umpires stayed with the right call.”
When the debris started flying the first concern for Matheny was for his players’ safety.
“We saw those little bottles half filled and that could certainly hurt somebody,” Matheny said. “That was our first concern and we got to a safe spot on the field and waited for things to calm down.”
As a result of the ugliness of the crowd, following the final out the Cardinals didn’t celebrate on the field and instead bolted off and into the safety of their clubhouse.
“We just felt it was best for the players not to take that risk and get stuck out there and risk something happening,” Matheny said. “We made it very clear if we could finish it off to get inside the dugouts as quick as we can and go into the clubhouse.”
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez had a different take.
“I was arguing it wasn’t an ordinary effort,” Gonzalez said. “Their shortstop had to go way out there to make a play on a fly ball. I thought there was some miscommunication between Holliday and Kozma.
“I went out there and protested the game and they came in and talked to Joe (Torre) and the protest — obviously there’s no game tomorrow — was done right there and now. They came back and told me they were going to go with the call on the field. But from where I was, I just took a glimpse at the replay, I thought we had a legit beef.”
This game was supposed to be one more magical moment for Chipper Jones, who is retiring from the game after 19 brilliant seasons with the Braves.
But in what turned out to be his final game — No. 2,590 — it was his throwing error in the fourth that opened the door for three St. Louis runs and gave them the momentum to win the game.
“There are a lot of guys in there trying to lay blame and I just kind of kept my mouth shut because ultimately, I feel like I’m the one to blame,” Jones said. “The play should have been a tailor-made double play (but he threw high and wide of second) and they ended up scoring three runs and gaining momentum. Then Holliday hits the homer and now all of a sudden we’re down two runs and it just seemed like that play there turned everything.
“That’s what I’m most disappointed in. Walking away from my last game, don’t want to go 0-for-5 and make an error that loses the season for your ballclub. That will have to be something I’ll have to deal with in the days to come.”