ATLANTA — What had been a magical year for Chipper Jones and the Braves reverted to postseason heartache Friday. Kris Medlen, the pitcher who couldn’t lose, lost. And to cap their disappointing night, a Braves rally in the eighth inning was thwarted by a questionable infield-fly ruling.
The Braves made three errors, none more costly than Jones’ errant throw in the three-run fourth inning of 6-3 loss to St. Louis in a National League Wild Card game before an overflow crowd at Turner Field.
The Cardinals advanced to a Division Series against Washington that starts Sunday, while the Braves were eliminated from the playoffs and left to stew about making so many mistakes in their biggest game of the year. And to wonder what might have been if not for that umpire’s call in the eighth.
“I’m not willing to say that call cost us the ballgame,” said Jones, who went 1-for-5 in the final game of his storied career, the hit an infield single in the ninth inning. “Our three errors cost us the ballgame, mine being the biggest.”
The Braves trailed 6-3 and had runners at first and second with one out in the eighth inning when Andrelton Simmons hit a pop fly into left field. Shortstop Pete Kozma ran out for it but backed off at the last second. The ball fell between Kozma and left fielder Matt Holliday, and a crowd of 52,631 roared, assuming the bases would be full with one out and Brian McCann on deck to pinch-hit.
McCann has a .339 career average and nine grand slams in 109 at-bats with the bases loaded.
Only the bases wouldn’t be loaded, because left-field umpire Sam Holbrook called Simmons out on an infield-fly ruling, an unusual call for a ball that landed as far into the outfield as Simmons’ pop-up, which fell about 50 feet past the back edge of the infield dirt.
“I was stunned,” Simmons said. “I couldn’t understand the call. I’ve seen it made shallow, but not that deep (in the outfield), pretty much in left field. I don’t think anybody has seen that one before.”
Manager Fredi Gonzalez argued vehemently with umpires near third base, and fans littered the field with hundreds of plastic bottles and other garbage, causing a 19-minute delay, during which Gonzalez filed an official protest.
“I thought the shortstop had to go way out there to make a play,” Gonzalez said. “(Joe Torre) came back and told me they were going to go with what was called on the field.”
Infield-fly rulings are not reviewable under baseball’s instant-replay rules, and Torre, Major League Baseball’s vice president of baseball operations, upheld the ruling. Normally the protest would be in written form and decided upon in 24 hours, but since it was a one-game playoff Torre made the call right away.
“I ruled to disallow the protest based on the fact it’s a judgment call,” Torre said.
Cardinals reliever Jason Motte replaced Mitchell Boggs during the delay and walked McCann to load the bases before striking out Michael Bourn to end the inning.
It was the 16th loss in the past 21 home postseason games for the Braves, who went one-and-done in their first trip to the postseason since 2010 and their second in seven seasons. They lost their past six postseason series, and now they’ve also lost the first single-game Wild Card playoff.
Catcher David Ross hit a two-run homer to give the Braves a 2-0 lead in the second inning. It was the fourth homer in his past 20 at-bats for Ross, who started because McCann has struggled with a shoulder injury.
Medlen was charged with five runs (three earned) in 61/3 innings as the Cardinals became the first team to beat the Braves in Medlen’s past 24 starts. Not that it was his fault — he gave up three hits and no walks, and two of three Cardinals runs in the fourth inning were unearned, and the Braves had a potential tying run erased by Simmons’ baserunning mistake in the bottom of the fourth.
Jones’ farewell tour of a final season had often been referred to as a storybook ending to his Hall of Famer’s career, as Jones had come through with so many dramatic hits that one Braves broadcaster said the season couldn’t have been scripted better in Hollywood.
But things went awry and the story took a cruel turn Friday, when Jones’ throwing error was part of a shoddy fielding display by a Braves defense that had the fewest errors (86) and best fielding percentage in the National League during the regular season.
Jones threw wide of second base on a potential double-play grounder with none out in the fourth, and two of three runs in the inning were unearned. Simmons and second baseman Dan Uggla also made errors.
“The guys who made the errors are pretty sure-handed,” Gonzalez said. “I’m sure we were excited. ... We just didn’t do what we normally do, and it hurt us. ... It huts losing a ballgame the way we did tonight.”