This is Part Three of the oral history of the 2012 NL Wild Card Game. Here are the links to the introductory Part One and the epic Part Two.
The game resumed after a 20-minute delay. It was played under protest both officially and from the crowd, which amused itself by chanting “IN-FIELD-FLY!” on any batted ball in the air post-delay.
McCann worked a walk to start the action back up, but with two out and two on instead of bases loaded and one out, it didn’t move the scoreboard. Bourn then struck out and that was the end of that.
Kimbrel worked the top of the ninth in a classic too little, too late use of one’s best relief pitcher. He got Robinson and Descalso to infield-fly out to Bourn. Then Kimbrel gassed Kozma, adding his fastball to the list of things Pete Kozma had no chance of catching up to.
In the bottom of the ninth, Prado and Heyward made quick outs, bringing Chipper up to the plate for what would, barring extra innings, be the final time in his career.
SMITTY: I thought he was out, but if the umps had made that call to end the game, a riot may have started.
SPIRAL STAIRS: When Chipper came up in the ninth I definitely understood that this would in all likelihood be the last time we’d ever see him hit. I told my kids to pay special attention and explained to them the significance. I wanted them to remember this. Of course they’ll never forget this game, but for an entirely different reason. They will probably talk for years about the time a riot nearly broke out at Turner Field. Anyway, I took a picture of Chipper at the plate to capture this bittersweet moment.
Chipper seemed out, even from my seats in the upper deck, and it was pretty clear we were getting a make-up call. Would a riot have broken out if he had been called out? I honestly doubt it. By this time the wind had been taken out of the crowd’s sails. The fact that we were going to lose this game had settled in completely. It was much different from the 8th when everyone was at the edge of their seats and full of optimism. Calling Chipper out would have seemed like adding insult to injury, but I doubt people had it in them to riot at this point.
SIMPLE JACK: I was already halfway out of the stadium at that point, but we hung around near the foul pole just long enough to watch Chipper hit that crappy ground ball out to end a terrible last game of his great career. I don’t think professional umpires actually do this kind of stuff, but it really looked like the first base ump wanted to give Chipper and the Braves a break.
Maybe the ump just wanted Chipper to go out with something other than a season ending ground out, and maybe he felt bad about that horrible call in the outfield. I think at that point the crowd was resigned to the fact that this was going to be one of those games where we got totally screwed, and most of the energy was gone at that point.
Chipper’s “hit” was followed by a ground-rule double by Freeman, which led to the same sort of close-but-far-away rally we’d seen all day: the tying run at the plate, two out, an anticlimactic groundout by Uggla all but inevitable.
And then it was over, and everyone ran into their respective clubhouses as quickly as they could. My friends and I walked down by the visitors’ dugout looking to catch a glimpse of Chipper saluting Atlanta one last time, but it wasn’t really a day for postgame salutes.
My group stuck around for a while longer, long past angry, just hoping to say goodbye. When it was apparent that wouldn’t happen, we all went home.
SPIRAL STAIRS: At the end of the game I really thought Chipper would come out of the dugout one last time to acknowledge his fans. A weak chant of “Chipper, Chipper, Chipper” started and our eyes were on the dugout, hoping for a final glimpse of our hero. He never came out. I thought back to Bobby’s last game, and how the opposing dugout took a moment to acknowledge him and he tipped his hat to the crowd. Chipper deserved a moment like this and I can’t help think we would have seen one hadn’t the events of the 8th inning taken place.
Did we get screwed? If so, by whom?
SMITTY: Were we screwed? Yes and no. The Braves made a ton of errors and had a few chances and didn’t cash in. I feel the umpire’s call did screw us and I felt like we were building so momentum and I felt like we were going to come back.
So in the end we were screwed. We had to play a crappy team in a one game playoff when we had a much better record. The umpire made a call that killed a late inning rally. He wasn’t in position to make that call.
SPIRAL STAIRS: I have a friend who’s a pretty knowledgeable baseball coach, but also a Cards fan, who immediately went on Facebook that night and argued that Holbrook made the right call. Of course I hit the ceiling when I read this but since that game I have, like all of us, read all the articles making the exact same point about “ordinary effort,” how the ball doesn’t necessarily have to be in the infield for the infield fly to be called, etc. Maybe I’m being stubborn, but I still think we got screwed. If they’re correct, which I’m not willing to concede, then I think this was a case of the letter of the rule being followed to the detriment of the spirit of the rule. The infield fly rule is supposed to protect the runners, and there was no way a double play could have been made on this play. And there’s no excuse for Holbrook making such a late call.
Even though we got screwed on that play, the Braves clearly have nobody but themselves to blame for losing that game. There were too many defensive missteps and missed opportunities at the plate to place the blame on one call.
SIMPLE JACK: It’s funny, because as pissed off as I am/was at Holbrook, I’ve really been mad at Bud Selig since the drive home that night. The more removed I got from that play, the more pissed off I was at Selig and MLB for instituting a ridiculous 1 game playoff. We were better than the Cardinals in the regular season by a fair margin, and we beat them 5/6 times we played them up until that game, it really wasn’t fair to make us play them in a do or die one game playoff. But when you set up a one-game playoff, you potentially put the game in the hands of one bad call, and that’s what happened here.
Would you come back to Turner Field if the one-game playoff was held there again this season?
SMITTY: I hope I don’t have to go to another play in game. Would I make the effort to be there again? I’m not sure. Probably. I hope the team is as pissed off as I am and goes wire to wire and wins the division on the way to sweeping the World Series.
SPIRAL STAIRS: If the Braves find themselves in the same position next fall, I will probably be in attendance once more, hoping to see the right team celebrate on our field for once.
SIMPLE JACK: If we’re there again, I’ll be there. The atmosphere was awesome and the game was a lot of fun — other than the outcome.