Chipper Jones and the Atlanta Braves didn't quite get the storybook ending they wanted.
The Braves ended the season with a six-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals in the Wild Card standings. However, with the new rule implemented by Major League Baseball that has the two Wild Card teams face off in a one-game playoff, the regular season standings are irrelevant.
The Braves took the field against the Cardinals on Friday needing a win in order to advance to the National League Division Series. They gave the ball to Kris Medlen, hoping to add to the 23-game team winning streak in Medlen's starts. Despite jumping out to a 2-0 lead, the Braves fell 6-3 in a heartbreaking and controversial loss.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez's call to start David Ross in place of Brian McCann reaped instant rewards as Ross launched a two-run homer in the second inning. His home run came one pitch after the umpire granted Ross a last-minute time call in what would have been strike three.
The game began to unravel in the top of the fourth inning, however. After a leadoff single by Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday hit a sharp grounder to Jones, who made a nice backhanded stop but sailed his throw over Dan Uggla's head. A good throw would have likely resulted in a double play. The Cardinals went on to score three runs in the inning, most of the damage coming on Allen Craig's RBI double.
The Braves had a rally going in the bottom of the fourth with Andrelton Simmons batting and runners on first and third with one out. Simmons tried to drive Freddie Freeman in from third on a safety squeeze, but Freeman wasn't able to advance. Kyle Lohse's throw to first glanced off Simmons' helmet, but he was called out on batter interference since he was running inside the first base line.
The Cardinals would add on another run in the sixth to push their lead to 4-2 when Holliday hit a solo homer. The Cardinals then took advantage of the Braves' sloppy defense to tack on two more runs in the seventh. Throwing errors by Dan Uggla and Simmons as well as some miscommunication between Freeman and Jonny Venters on a slow grounder to first gave the Cardinals a 6-2 lead.
The Braves would chip away a little in the seventh inning. Michael Bourn drove in Jose Constanza on a groundout after Constanza hit a triple. Jones would come to the plate with runners on second and third following a Martin Prado single and a double by Jason Heyward. Jones grounded out to end the inning.
The real drama would come in the bottom of the eighth inning. With runners on first and second and one out, Simmons hit a pop fly into left field. Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma ran out to catch the fly ball, but the ball dropped between Kozma and Holliday due to some miscommunication. The umpire in left field called the infield fly rule, which meant Simmons was automatically out. Because of that call, the Braves went from a bases loaded with one out situation to runners on second and third with two outs. The game was delayed for over 15 minutes when fans started throwing debris onto the field, and Gonzalez officially protested the game (to no avail). The Braves would be unable to push across a run in the inning when Michael Bourn struck out with the bases loaded.
"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."
Chipper Jones would have one last at-bat in the ninth inning. He hit a broken bat ground ball to second base, but Daniel Descalso's acrobatic throw to first pulled Craig off the bag. Even though he wouldn't be able to ride off into the sunset with a World Series victory, Jones did manage to record a base hit in the final at-bat of his remarkable career.
"I'm not willing to say that call cost us the ballgame," Jones said of the infield fly call. "Our three errors cost us the ballgame, mine being the biggest."
Fans may point to the infield fly call and blame the umpires for the loss. Ultimately, the Braves' defense was the main culprit. Braves players and fans will now have to wait six months before they play meaningful games again, only this time Larry Wayne "Chipper" Jones, Jr. won't be on the lineup card.
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