In what can only be described as one of the most controversial finishes in MLB playoff history, the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Atlanta Braves 6-3 at Turner Field Friday night to advance to the National League Division Series.
Controversy ensued in the bottom of the eighth inning during what looked like an impending Braves comeback.
Down 6-3 with runners on first and second, Andrelton Simmons hit a soaring pop fly to shallow left field, where Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma called off Matt Holiday and looked in a position to make the play.
When Kozma lost the ball and it dropped to the ground, chaos followed, as left field umpire called the infield fly rule, taking the Braves from a bases-loaded situation with one out down to runners at second and third with two outs.
The aftermath was what can only be described as an utter embarrassment for the Braves organization and Major League Baseball as a whole. Angered by the questionable call, fans started tossing garbage onto the field in protest, causing the game to be delayed by 19 minutes while the grounds crew worked to clean the debris.
Though the controversy is all people will be talking about in the coming days, it will overshadow what was already an eventful game.
The St. Louis charge was led by starting pitcher Kyle Lohse, who battled his way through 5.2 innings, giving up just two runs on six hits before giving way to the bullpen.
While Lohse's performance was ultimately strong, it did not start that way. The Braves got on the scoreboard first with a two-run home run by David Ross in the second inning. Spurred by those early runs and a raucous crowd on hand for Chipper Jones' final postseason push, it looked like Atlanta might ride the wave all the way to the NLDS.
Unfortunately for the Braves, it was not to be. Catalyzed by a throwing error by Jones on what could have been a double-play ball, St. Louis roared back in the fourth inning to take a 3-2 lead after RBI from Allen Craig, Yadier Molina and David Freese.
From there, the mistakes just continued to pile up for the Braves.
An inexplicable bunt attempt by Andrelton Simmons in the fifth inning resulted in a runner interference call on the young shortstop, which halted Atlanta's first comeback attempt.
After a Matt Holliday solo home run put his team ahead 4-2 in the sixth, a comedy of errors by the Braves the following inning truly sealed the Cardinals' victory. Errant throws from both Simmons and second baseman Dan Uggla led to two more St. Louis runs in the top of the seventh to put the away team ahead 6-2.
That left the Cardinals bullpen with the simple job of not completely blowing the game, which they managed to do despite the wacky finish.
For St. Louis, this win extends the team's red-hot second-half run and the franchise's World Series defense. The team will head back home to play Game 1 of the NLDS against the Washington Nationals on Sunday.
On the other side of the diamond, this is a bitter disappointment for a Braves team that achieved almost every goal it set forth in 2012. With that in mind, let's recap Friday's contest, starting with the best tweets of the night.
Tweets of the Night
Not sure that was 'ordinary effort' from the shortstop Kozma twitter.com/BleacherReport…— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) October 6, 2012
Though there was a cavalcade of tweets following the erroneous infield-fly call, the simplicity of this one by ESPN's Michael Smith said it all.
What a disaster
— Michael Smith (@michaelsmith) October 6, 2012
Back on the non-controversial side of things, the ESPN Stats & Info team had great insight about the rarity of Kris Medlen's outing.
The 4 runs allowed by Kris Medlen are his most allowed in a game since July 24 2010 (5 against Marlins)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 5, 2012
After Simmons' critical base-running error, ESPN's Pedro Gomez was baffled by the youngster's decision to bunt in the first place.
Atlanta rookie Andrelton Simmons called out for running in the base line. Good call. Why bunt there, with the pitcher up next?— Pedro Gomez (@pedrogomezESPN) October 5, 2012
Knowing that Jones could be playing in his final contest, the Atlanta fans cheered him every time he stepped up to the plate. That left Grantland's Bill Barnwell open to dole out some well-timed sarcasm.
We should really give hitters a standing ovation every time they go to the plate because what if it's their last at-bat you know?— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) October 5, 2012
Meanwhile, SB Nation's Bomani Jones was getting a little wrapped up in the moment about the Braves' elimination.
i'm decidedly unemotional about sports. braves had my heart like no other as a kid. so i'm fighting to keep it cool here.— Bomani Jones (@bomani_jones) October 5, 2012
Grades for Key Cardinals Players
Kyle Lohse: B
After allowing the home run to Ross in the second inning, the right-hander went out and performed admirably the rest of the game.
The Cards were counting on him more than ever and the 34-year-old came through with perhaps his most powerful stuff of the season. Over 5.2 innings, Lohse struck out six Atlanta batters, which was just the sixth time he had accomplished that feat in 2012.
Another strong performance in a season full of them for Lohse.
Allen Craig: B
They say the most important run to a comeback is the first, and the first baseman's RBI double in the fourth inning set up a big-time Cardinals comeback.
Considering most pundits had written off St. Louis when the team lost Albert Pujols in the offseason, Craig's emergence was not only critical here in the wild card play-in, but to getting the team in the playoffs in the first place.
Craig made his presence known with a 2-for-4 performance.
Matt Holliday: A
The star outfielder went 2-for-3 on the day and scored two of the Cardinals' two runs. But it was his home run at the top of the sixth that sealed the deal.
On a day where most of the surrounding characters struggled at the plate, it was necessary that the middle of the order get the job done.
Cardinals Bullpen: C
Though the unit ultimately preserved the W, it was not a pretty situation to say the least. Following a solid regular season, the bullpen will have to rectify its performance against Washington.
Grades for Key Braves Players
Kris Medlen: B
First and foremost, you cannot fault Medlen for the Jones error, which ostensibly cost Atlanta the ballgame.
He seemed in command throughout the game and spotted his pitches well (outside of the hanger to Holliday). Scattering just three hits over his 6.1 innings, you would have thought the righty did enough to win.
It just so happened that every small mistake Medlen made would be magnified by the play of his teammates behind him.
Chipper Jones: D
While I feel a little strange about being so hard on Jones in his farewell contest, his performance simply wasn't up to par.
His error in the fourth inning has been harped on enough, but Jones also could not get things going at the dish, going 1-for-5 with a strikeout.
After 18 years with the Braves organization, this is undoubtedly not the way the all-time great expected to ride off into the sunset.
David Ross: A
His two-run shot put him in a position to be an unexpected hero, and the catcher's 3-for-4 performance was fantastic. Starting in place of Brian McCann, the Braves needed a strong performance and got it from Ross.
Braves Bullpen: B
Like Medlen, the Atlanta 'pen was saddled with poor performances from the fielders, which ultimately cost the team the game.