Author’s Note: I attended the wild-card game last October and found it to be the most surreal sporting event I’ve ever personally witnessed in my almost 31 years. As we head into a new season that hopefully includes skipping straight into the divisional round, I thought the story of what it was like to be at Turner Field that day was worth telling. In this series, you’ll hear it from the varied perspectives of several Braves Journalers who were in attendance. – W.C.G.
The game was at an odd time, 5 p.m. on a Friday. Atlanta fans are stereotyped as apathetic and unable to beat the traffic, but my group and I got there two hours early to get standing room behind the 200 level and we barely snagged the last spot on the “bar” that rings the back of that section. I’ve been to Braves playoff games in three other years (2003, 2005, 2010) but I never felt quite so much buzz around the ballpark as I did that day.
MAVERICK: I was a little worried we were going to get there too early because the Braves website says the parking lots only open up about 2 hours before game time. We didn’t really hit any traffic and pulled into the Orange lot at about 1 o’clock. There were already hundreds of people tailgating. I went to game 3 against the Giants in 2010 and it didn’t have the same feel as this day. It was a Friday, it was warm, and everyone thought this was our year. We had Kris Medlen, the hottest pitcher in baseball, someone who had thrown the ball so well that it was impossible for Fredi to send him back to the bullpen…and that is no small task.
We sat in the front row of the upper deck in right field. But first, we tailgated for almost 4 hours in the parking lot, and one of the guys in my group was wearing a Cardinals jersey and hat. I enjoy some good fun with fans of other teams but I hate how obnoxious some people get with it. None of that happened while we were tailgating. Everyone in the lot was having a good time and just looking forward to a sudden death baseball game. I’ve never seen that many people tailgating for a Braves game at 1 in the afternoon.
SIMPLE JACK: I left work around 1:00 and tailgated with some friends under the trees in the stadium parking lots (green lot/blue lot area?). The pre-game atmosphere was as electric as it’s ever been at a game I’ve been to. There was lots of heckling of Cardinals fans as they walked through the tailgate area towards the stadium. I had tickets in the first row behind the visitors’ dugout, section 116.
SMITTY: I had to take a half-day at work (I work in Chattanooga, TN.) A buddy of mine’s company gave him tickets, but we didn’t have a parking pass. We decided to take MARTA, which is usually an easy way to go. However, there were not enough buses to get everyone from Underground to the stadium. We got to our table in the 755 Club just in time to see Jason Heyward pull the home run back. MARTA was not ready to handle the number of people and bus them to the park. There really needs to be a line that goes out to the Ted.
JONATHAN: I took the day off work. I went to the game with my wife, our (then) 4 year old son, and my dad. We live in Greenville, SC, so it is about a 3 hour trip down to Atlanta (counting parking, getting to the stadium, etc). We left about noon, got lunch on the way, but it was not like we were getting there with several hours to spare. We got to our seats probably about 4:30.
SPIRAL STAIRS: I was in the upper deck on the third base line. By 5:00 the place was absolutely packed. That guy who carries a microphone around the stadium got on the Jumbotron right before 5:00 and said, “Okay everybody, they’re about to cut to us live on national TV and we need to show America how rowdy we are. Get your tomahawks out and start chopping!” or something to that effect. Then the loudest tomahawk chop I’ve ever heard started.
The beginning of the game was kind of shockingly full of breaks for the Braves. Heyward snow-coned a possible Yadier Molina home run while staring into the sun. Half an inning later, David Ross swung through strike three but it was ruled no pitch – time had been called – and Ross sent the next pitch out of the park for a two-run homer.
And after all that good luck, after three innings it was only 2-0. And I was standing next to my friend Al, a lifelong Cardinals fan wearing a Molina jersey, and he just looked so unconcerned.
SMITTY: I never feel comfortable when playing the Cardinals — they are the Yankees of the National League. I felt if we could take a lead into the 5th or 6th, we would be okay. I didn’t think they could touch O’Ventbrel.
Honestly, I was nervous. I felt we should have been up three or four to nothing by that point. We were lucky to have a 2-0 lead. You can’t let a team like the Cardinals off the mat.
SIMPLE JACK: Medlen had looked fantastic through the first few innings, generating a lot of swinging strikes and generally making people look silly. But at the same time, we knew the Cardinals had a great offense, and knew that Fredi was prone to making really poor pitching decisions, so I wasn’t too comfortable.
In the fourth inning, it seemed like everyone in a Braves uniform had a collective brain lock. Routine defensive plays turned into errors, and the Improved Fredi Gonzalez of 2012 went home and was replaced by Bunt All The Time Fredi of 2011. One of those bunts turned into Andrelton Simmons’ outside-the-baseline out, which swung what was potentially a huge rally situation into a two-out, pitcher-hitting anticlimax.
I saw it on a TV screen near the Kevin Rathbun steak stand where I was buying dinner, and I distinctly remember high-fiving a dude in a wheelchair. And then they took it off the board, and with enough replays I eventually figured out they had called Simmons for running outside the baseline, and the wheelchair dude and I just looked at each other like well, that sucked.
SMITTY: From where I was in the 755 Club, we had no idea what went down for almost a half-inning. However, to this day, I still don’t understand bunting there, unless you’re going to hit for the pitcher.
SPIRAL STAIRS: I was definitely confused for a short while by the play where Andrelton was called out at first after what looked like a bunt single, but I quickly came to the realization that he must have been running in the baseline.
I think this play played a part in priming the crowd for its explosion at the umpires in the 8th. By the time of the infield fly call people were already pissed. Shortly after Andrelton getting called out there was a video during one of the inning breaks where an umpire (not sure who) asked the crowd to donate to some charitable cause and the video was greeted with a chorus of boos.
MAVERICK: We were in the upper deck looking right down the first base line and still couldn’t figure out that Andrelton was out of the base path. It took someone texting me to find out why Andrelton was called out.
There was a lot of life to this team that just wasn’t present in 2011. But I had a feeling from when we could not catch the Nats that we were going to get screwed by Bud Selig. He took a faulty wild card system and made it ten times worse. Even in the parking lot before the game I had a bad feeling in my gut, it had nothing to do with the Braves team but everything to do with the system.
To be continued…