And so it ends. It figures that the season would come down to (1) Bobby going a batter too long with Derek Lowe, and (2) Melky making the last out on a weak groundout to third with the tying and winning runs on base. — October 11, 2010
At a certain point, you just have to admit it wasn’t to be. Kyle Farnsworth, magnificent in the regular season, couldn’t hold a 6-1 lead, and the Braves couldn’t score for nine innings of tied baseball, losing in one of the strangest games ever played. — October 9, 2005
As you might have expected, the Braves’ season ended — not formally, but essentially — with Chris Reitma on the mound. — October 11, 2004
It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. — Bart Giamatti, November 1977
Tonight, the Braves lost on the merits. They had 12 hits and three walks, and scored a grand total of three runs. They made three errors, and gave up four unearned runs. The Cardinals won this game because they failed to lose it: they got six hits and no walks, but cashed each and every one of those errors in. The Braves left men on first and third in the fourth, left men on second and third in the 7th, left the bases loaded in the 8th, and left men on second and third in the 9th. That’s why the Braves lost.
The worst error of all, arguably, was the first. It came in the fourth inning, with the Braves up 2-0 and Medlen pitching well. After Carlos Beltran singled, Matt Holliday hit a hotshot right to Chipper, who backhanded it and had plenty of time to start a double play. Instead, he threw it into right field, and instead of two outs, there were no outs with men on first and third. Both of them came around to score, and by the end of the inning it was 3-2. The Cardinals held onto the lead from then on, tacking on additional runs thanks to throwing errors by Dan Uggla and Andrelton Simmons.
Kris Medlen wasn’t his usual unhittable self, but he was fine, giving up just three hits and striking out four men without walking anybody in 6 1/3 innings. He did give up a solo shot to Matt Holliday, and nearly gave up a homer to Yadier Molina in the first inning, but Jason Heyward leaped over the fence and hauled in a snowcone.
David Ross gets the game ball, with Freddie Freeman a close second. They got half the Braves’ 12 hits, with three apiece. Ross got a two-run homer to put the Braves on the board in the second inning, and he was lucky to do so, with the umpire granting his time call as Lohse went into his windup to deliver a two-strike pitch that Ross swung and missed at. Ross hit his homer on the do-over, and later picked up a Crash Davis-like bunt single. Freeman had a double and two singles. And Jose Constanza got a pinch hit triple and came around to score the Braves’ third and final run. It really isn’t worth discussing the rest of the “offense.”
Fredi made some questionable bullpen decisions in the 7th inning, but the pitchers he brought in actually did their jobs. Fredi pulled Kris Medlen in the second inning after a two-base error by Dan Uggla and a sacrifice sent the runner to third. Fredi then drew in the infield and brought in Chad Durbin — which seemed disastrously stupid, but Durbin induced a ground ball straight to Andrelton Simmons, but Simmons bobbled the ball and then threw it away, allowing a run to score and allowing the batter to get to second. Then Fredi brought in Venters, who induced a swinging bunt down the first base line that was such a slow dribbler that while Venters tried to chase the ball and tag the batter out, the runner was able to score from second. That took it from a manageable 4-2 to a difficult 6-2.
This game would have been an uncontroversial, in fact even frustratingly recognizable, Braves loss, if not for the 8th inning. We’ve all known that our offense is awful with men on base. We all knew that if we were going to win this game we’d have to shut down their offense, which is one of the best in the league. And we all remembered Brooks Conrad and the way things ended in 2010. When the Braves lose, they do not lose with grace and dignity. They lose the game only after having forgotten all their coordination, pride, honor, control of the strike zone, reflex, sense memory, and the lyrics to “Hot Cross Buns.” They lose badly.
But tonight they did not merely lose badly. They lost, at least in part, thanks to an egregiously bad call by umpire Sam Holbrook, a 47-year old man who is a 15-year veteran of the majors and who is working his seventh year in the playoffs. Tonight, Holbrook was the “left field umpire,” because in the playoffs — and the Wild Card play-in counts as the playoffs — the umpiring staff expands from four to six, with two umpires in the outfield along with the four in the infield.
So the Braves had men on first and second with one out in the eighth inning, and Sam Holbrook was in left field, when Andrelton Simmons hit a pop-up into no-man’s land. Rookie shorstop Pete Kozma started backpedaling as left fielder Matt Holliday was coming on, and at a certain point Kozma realized that he had no idea where the ball was, freaked out, and the ball landed in between him and Holliday. From the replays, it became clear that at the same point that Kozma freaked out, Holbrook raised his hands to indicate that the pop fly was in fact an “infield fly,” since men were on first and second with one out.
Now, the notion of an infield fly that was hit to the outfield is bizarre. The notion of an infield fly that was called by an outfield umpire, not an infield umpire, is even more bizarre. The fact that none of the infield umpires were willing to overrule the outfield umpire’s call is infuriating. But then, this isn’t the worst sports call by a referee in recent memory. It isn’t even the worst blown call in the last two weeks. Fredi Gonzalez ineffectually declared that he was playing the game under protest, which is meaningless in a one-game playoff, and MLB predictably denied the protest immediately after the game.
The Braves were screwed over. But they screwed themselves far, far more than they were screwed. They sucked tonight. Their defense was awful, and their offense choked in nearly every inning. If the umpire never made the call, it would be easy to say that they deserved to lose. Chipper Jones made a killer error that led to two runs, and went 1-5 at the plate, stranding three men and getting his only hit on a lucky break, a bloop up the middle that the second baseman threw wildly; Chipper was jogging to first because he expected to be thrown out easily, and he barely recovered in time to start running hard by the time the first baseman caught the ball and started flopping his foot toward the bag.
Honestly — even if the umpire had never made the call, and allowed the play to stand as a fluke single, with bases loaded and just one out in the eighth, how many of us honestly believe that the Braves would have gone on to win the game?