Ed. note: This is the fourth in a series of posts by W.C.G. that is predicated on something Mac used to say: “I’ve mentioned before that I have a low opinion of hope, which normally plays you false.” Or, as W.C.G. noted in his introductory post: “Braves fandom has mostly been a series of pleasant, sometimes even inspiring, regular seasons spoiled by some giant turd of a playoff series. As the data set is fairly rich at this point, I have attempted to organize the turds into five different subcategories, which I have named and ranked. The series will begin with the least aggravating type of Miserable Braves Playoff Loss and work its way up to the most aggravating. I’ve also set odds for the likelihood of the 2013 Braves to join each category.”
#2: The Umpire
I don’t have words for Game 5 of the 1997 NLCS, so I’m just going to leave this here instead:
Eric Gregg never worked another postseason game after this effort. Two years later, he joined a group of umpires resigning as part of a labor dispute, and MLB simply accepted his resignation and never looked back. He never worked in MLB again.
Would that Bud Selig had taken the same stance toward Sam Holbrook. Holbrook, too, had resigned as part of the 1999 labor protest, but MLB took him back in 2002. Ten years later, he was working the left-field line during the wild-card game at Turner Field when he forgot he was working the left-field line and called “infield fly” on a ball 225 feet from home plate.
We have… um, we have been here before about this game.
1997’s Game 5 is the archetypical Umpire game; the series was tied 2-2 going into Gregg’s game, the Braves still only lost 2-1, the game swung the series, Gregg awarded Livan Hernandez 15 strikeouts, and MLB gave Hernandez the LCS MVP trophy just to fart in the Braves’ collective face.
2012’s was a more multifaceted loss; it was the clincher of a one-game series, featured a bunch of defensive miscues from normally surehanded infielders, and was pretty much a loss of the Braves’ own doing by the seventh-inning stretch.
But it still counts as an Umpire game because Holbrook’s call broke a crowd that was already agitated about having to play this new, arbitrary coin flip of a game against a team six games worse than ours in the regular season. Had the Braves already screwed themselves into a hole by the bottom of the seventh? Sure. But we’d been waiting for years to will our side to a comeback win, and when that ball hit the ground it felt like we’d psyched Holliday into screwing the play up, like an SEC student section with a rattled opposing quarterback near its end zone. The Braves would have finished that comeback. We’d have made them. That’s what the stadium felt like in that moment. It made sense if you were there.
When Holbrook took that away with his ridiculous (and less-than-last-second) interpretation of the infield fly rule, the rhythm of the game felt interrupted by something conspiratorial, a force dating back to Kent Hrbek pulling Ron Gant off the bag in 1991, running though Livan’s 15 “strikeouts” in 1997 and Buster Posey being out in 2010. The trash that hit the field that night was a monument to history. The rational part of my brain says there is no conspiracy. But it also acknowledges that it sucks that this stuff goes against us every single time.
Chance of the 2013 Braves doing this: 10%. We just went through this last year, and they wouldn’t do this to us two years in a row, no? All bets are off if they let CB Bucknor work the playoffs, though.