October 6, 2012
NL Wild Card Game Recap: Cardinals 6, Braves 3
In an unfortunate turn of events, the first-ever Wild Card Game, and official 2012 postseason opener, will be known for an umpire’s call rather than the competitive and exciting play between two good teams.
The call happened in the eighth inning. Atlanta, trailing by three runs, had runners on first and second with nobody out and shortstop Andrelton Simmons up. Simmons hit a flyball to left field that sent his counterpart, Pete Kozma, dashing into the outfield and asking for outfield assistance. The help never came, but the ball did, as it dropped for an apparent hit, giving the Braves a bases-loaded, one-out situation with Brian McCann striding to the plate. That would have been the case if not for one messy minor detail: the left field umpire called an infield fly at the last possible instance, freeing the Cardinals of their defensive burden and costing the Braves a baserunner and an out. (The baserunners’ advances were legal under the infield fly rule, and so they stood.)
Fredi Gonzalez stormed out of the dugout and gave the umpires a fit before officially requesting a protest (the Commissioner’s office declined this request). Braves fans littered the outfield with cups, bottles, Mark Lemke, and anything else that happened to be removable from the Turner Field stands. The ambiguity of the infield fly rule is as much to blame as anything. An infield fly, as described by MLB.com, is “a fair fly ball” that can be “caught by an infielder with ordinary effort.” The definition goes on to state that , “When it seems apparent that a batted ball will be an infield fly, the umpire shall immediately declare infield fly for the benefit of the runners.”
The play comes down to measures of length: the ball seemed too far into the outfield for the call, the umpire waited until Kozma had turned his back on the play, and so on. The rule is in place to prevent drop-and-pop double plays. But there was no danger of a double play on this particular play; in fact, if Kozma’s misplay was intentional, you would have no choice but to question his baseball awareness.
Once play resumed, Mike Matheny inserted his closer, Jason Motte, to face McCann. Motte walked McCann to load the bases, and then nearly walked Michael Bourn before coming back from a 3-0 count to strike out the Braves center fielder. Atlanta mounted one more rally, in the ninth, but fell short, thus ending its season.
Picking up the game in the eighth inning is doing a disservice to the action that came in the innings before. So let’s start from the beginning.