Thursday, February 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

St. Louis Cardinals top Atlanta Braves in wild NL wild card

ATLANTA — The Cardinals rediscovered their postseason touch. Chipper Jones and the Braves kept throwing the ball away. And Atlanta's fans turned their field into a trash heap.

In a game protested by the Braves, Matt Holliday homered and the defending World Series champion Cardinals rode three Atlanta throwing errors — the most crucial of them by the retiring Jones — to take the NL wild-card playoff 6-3 Friday.

MLB executive Joe Torre said the protest was denied, so St. Louis faces Washington in the division round, beginning Sunday at Busch Stadium.

Jones, 40, had an infield hit in his final at-bat but threw away a double-play ball in the fourth, which led to three runs and wiped out a 2-0 lead. "Ultimately, I feel I'm the one to blame," the third baseman said. "That should have been a tailor-made double play."

But the game will be remembered for a disputed call in the eighth on a fly ball that dropped in short left.

Andrelton Simmons' fly ball fell between shortstop Pete Kozma and leftfielder Matt Holliday when they miscommunicated on who would catch it. That would have loaded the bases with one out. But leftfield ump Sam Holbrook called Simmons out via the infield fly rule.

Angry fans flung trash on the field, leading to a 19-minute delay as the Cardinals retreated to their dugout. "It was scary at first," Cards catcher Yadier Molina said. "I've never seen that before."

Holbrook and umpiring supervisor Charlie Reliford defended the call.

"Once that fielder established himself, he got ordinary effort," Holbrook said, referring to Kozma calling for the ball. "That's when the call was made."

Braves president John Schuerholz apologized for the actions of the crowd, which left Holbrook fearing for his safety. "When cans are flying past your head, yeah, a little bit," he said.

The infield fly is a complicated rule, designed to prevent infielders from intentionally dropping a popup with more than one runner on base and perhaps get an extra out. No one could ever remember it being applied like this. Just a split-second before the ball hit the grass, Holbrook threw up his right arm to signal an automatic out. Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez stormed onto the field to object.

"I was stunned," Simmons said. "I've seen it made shallow, but not that deep (in the outfield), pretty much in leftfield. I don't think anybody has seen that one before."

A protest usually would be in written form and decided 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," he said.

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