MLB Playoffs: How the Infield Fly Call Will Affect the Wild Card Game
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Bottom of the eighth inning, down 6-3 in the first ever one game, winner takes all Wild Card showdown, and the Atlanta Braves were beginning to put together some late-game heroics.
Facing St. Louis Cardinals reliever Mitchell Boggs, Freddie Freeman walked to start off the inning. Second baseman Dan Uggla grounded out to shortstop, and Freeman was out at second. Catcher David Ross then singled to center field, advancing Uggla to second and putting a runner in scoring position.
Two on, one out, shortstop Andrelton Simmons at the plate.
Simmons cranks a shallow fly ball at least 50 feet into left field, and due to lack of communication between outfielder Matt Holiday and shortstop Pete Kozma, the ball drops.
Bases loaded, one out.
Just as it seemed the winning run was approaching the plate for the Braves, an umpire signaled that the pop-up was an infield fly and that therefore Simmons should be ruled out. The call came despite the fact that the ball was clearly in the outfield and there was no player planted near the ball that could have made the play with minimal effort, as the infield fly rule states.
At this point, chaos ensued.
Enraged Atlanta fans littered the field with trash, protesting this absurd call, but to no avail. This significant delay combined with the bad call pretty much crushed any momentum the Braves had going into this inning.
Second and third, two out.
Facing reliever Mark Rzepczynski, pinch hitter Brian McCann drew a walk, followed by a Michael Bourn strikeout.
Do you think the Braves would have won if there was no infield fly call?
The Braves put together a little bit of a rally in the ninth, as they did have second and third with two outs thanks to a Freddie Freeman ground rule double. However, after that call, it was pretty clear the Cardinals were going to win the game.
To be fair, that call was certainly not the end all be all of this baseball game. Atlanta's poor defense produced three errors over the course of the game, and St. Louis capitalized on their mistakes.
What could have been a routine double play in the fourth inning was instead a throwing error by Chipper Jones, and the Cards scored three runs that inning. Leading off the seventh inning, third baseman David Freese was able to get to second base on a Dan Uggla throwing error. Adron Chambers, who was pinch running for Freese, was able to score from third and Pete Kozma reached second base on another throwing error, this time by Andrelton Simmons.
Pitcher Kris Medlen was dominant coming into the game. But because of poor defense, he surrendered five runs in 6.1 innings, though only two of these runs were earned.
Although the blown call wasn't the whole game, people won't look back on this a year from now and think about the Braves defense. This call is the lasting memory of the one-game Wild Card, and the lasting memory of future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones' last game.
So how does all of this impact the one-game Wild Card in the future?
Anything can happen in baseball, including a fluke call. And this fluke call may just cost your team a run in the playoffs.
This game emphasizes that if your team loses out on the division, all bets are off for the Wild Card game, and the season may be decided by the umpiring staff during a given game.
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I personally think adding an additional wild card was good for the game of baseball, as it made the month of September truly thrilling. Races between the Orioles and Yankees, Athletics and Rangers, White Sox and Tigers along with teams like the Rays and Angels trying to squeeze their way into the playoff picture was a remarkable American League finish.
But if it all comes down to one game, a team's fate may be decided by factors out of its control, and this is not so good for the game of baseball.
One call could decide the fate of an entire team's playoff chances, and it could end the career of a Hall of Famer.
At least for the next year, this call will be the lasting impression of the one-game Wild Card, and we will have to wait and see what commissioner Bud Selig plans to do about this, if anything.
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