The inaugural National League Wild Card game brought out the wild in Atlanta Braves fans Friday night.
The win-or-go-home playoff game at Turner Field devolved into controversy in the eighth inning when umpire Sam Holbrook called Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons out after Simmons’ pop fly dropped into left field between two St. Louis Cardinals players. Holbrook cited the infield fly rule.
The Braves would have loaded the bases with one out, but instead watched manager Fredi Gonzalez charge the field for a Bobby Cox-worthy tirade, and fans from the crowd of 52,631 showered the field with hundreds of aluminum beer bottles and plastic water bottles.
Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, playing his last game before entering retirement, called the fans’ reaction disappointing, but added: “I know one thing’s for sure. You won’t be able to say that Braves fans don’t care. They came out in full force tonight, 50,000 strong. We love each and every one of them.”
The game was delayed 19 minutes as umpires directed both teams to their dugouts, and the grounds crew came onto the field to begin clearing the mess. The Braves played the remainder of the 6-3 season-ending loss under protest.
Major League Baseball executive vice president Joe Torre, who was at the game, notified Gonzalez and Braves general manager Frank Wren after the game that he was disallowing the protest “based on the fact that it was the umpire’s judgment call.”
Under normal circumstances, teams would be given 24 hours to file a written protest, but given the quick turnaround of a one-game playoff, he ruled on the spot. Wren dropped the protest after the game, and Braves president John Schuerholz issued an apology.
“That Atlanta Braves have a strong and loyal fan base, and a small group of those fans acted in a manner that was uncharacteristic and unacceptable,” Schuerholz’s statement read. “The actions of those fans are not representative of the Atlanta Braves or Major League Baseball. We apologize to the St. Louis Cardinals and to Major League Baseball.”
The Cardinals celebrated their victory in the visiting clubhouse to avoid further conflict. “We felt it was best for the players not to take that risk,” St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said.
The infield fly rule, which is designed to prevent a fielder from allowing a ball to drop to turn a double or triple play, states that it’s up to the umpire’s discretion whether a fielder can catch a fly ball with “ordinary effort.” The Braves argued shortstop Pete Kozma had to make extraordinary effort on a ball that deep to left field.
When asked afterward if he was confident in the call, Holbrook said, “absolutely.”