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There's No Credit For Style Points

Posted on October 6, 2012 at 10:31 AM
Filed Under: Atlanta Braves | St. Louis Cardinals | Washington Nationals

An INFIELD FLY is a fair fly ball (not including a line drive nor an attempted bunt) which can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort, when first and second, or first, second and third bases are occupied, before two are out. The pitcher, catcher and any outfielder who stations himself in the infield on the play shall be considered infielders for the purpose of this rule.
When it seems apparent that a batted ball will be an Infield Fly, the umpire shall immediately declare “Infield Fly” for the benefit of the runners. If the ball is near the baselines, the umpire shall declare “Infield Fly, if Fair.” 
The ball is alive and runners may advance at the risk of the ball being caught, or retouch and advance after the ball is touched, the same as on any fly ball. If the hit becomes a foul ball, it is treated the same as any foul. 
If a declared Infield Fly is allowed to fall untouched to the ground, and bounces foul before passing first or third base, it is a foul ball. If a declared Infield Fly falls untouched to the ground outside the baseline, and bounces fair before passing first or third base, it is an Infield Fly. 
Rule 2.00 (Infield Fly) Comment: On the infield fly rule the umpire is to rule whether the ball could ordinarily have been handled by an infielder— not by some arbitrary limitation such as the grass, or the base lines. The umpire must rule also that a ball is an infield fly, even if handled by an outfielder, if, in the umpire’'s judgment, the ball could have been as easily handled by an infielder. The infield fly is in no sense to be considered an appeal play. The umpire'’s judgment must govern, and the decision should be made immediately. 
When an infield fly rule is called, runners may advance at their own risk. If on an infield fly rule, the infielder intentionally drops a fair ball, the ball remains in play despite the provisions of Rule 6.05 (L). The infield fly rule takes precedence.--MLB Rule 2.00
No, no particular reason for quoting that, why do you ask?


Oh, that's why.

While the Cardinals won the first ever Wild Card Play-In Game by a 6-3 mark over the Atlanta Braves, that historic accomplishment is always going to be overshadowed by the play above.  So, before looking at the other moments (some that could have been just as controversial), let's break down this one moment in time.

Let's first give the caveat that this is a pretty tough call.  I don't think that it should have been called and I completely understand why Atlanta fans were feeling robbed.  (That doesn't excuse the sickening display they put on, though.  There was no call for raining trash onto the field and causing such a delay.  If it had been a regular season game, there's a good chance that would have caused a forfeit for their team.  MLB was never going to call a game that had this much import, but if the Cards had lost I think they could have protested the fact that it wasn't.)  I'm not going to defend the umpires, but there are arguments that they made the right call.

The most important of which is right there in the rule book comment.  Pete Kozma easily could have caught that with reasonable effort.  When you watch the replay, he was under it and ready to catch it before being spooked in some manner.  Kozma says that he just missed it, but it also looks like he thought Matt Holliday was calling for it.  Whether he was hearing the umpire calling the infield fly (which was posited on Twitter) or just the roar of the crowd got to him in his first postseason game, we don't know.  However, based on that comment, the infield fly could have been reasonably called.

(The flip side of that, also brought up on Twitter, was that it needed to be called immediately.  It's a little questionable whether the umpires did so, though to be fair they are working in a six-man format that is different from their regular season configuration.  There may have been a little hesitation on who should be signalling that.)

What hasn't been pointed out is what would have happened if the play had stood as it happened.  People have compared this to the Don Denkinger World Series game (you really shouldn't need this link if you are a Cardinal fan, but on the off chance your fandom started recently and you've not heard about it, click here) but the different in that situation was that the Cards were already winning and the play allowed the other team to come back.

There's no guarantee that would have happened here.  Sure, the Braves would have been in business, with the bases loaded and one out, but Brian McCann (who was coming up in a pinch-hitting role) hit .230 this year and grounded into 15 double plays.  There was a reason the Braves had started David Ross in this game instead of McCann, who granted did have 20 home runs and had the potential to put the Braves ahead.  I think Jason Motte would have come in anyway (and not had that delay to worry about) and could have easily gotten out of the inning with no damage done.  It's not a slam dunk that it was the defining moment of the game, even if it'll always be the most memorable one.

What had more of a chance to be a Denkinger move was the last at-bat of Chipper Jones's career.  Daniel Descalso rushed the throw to first (which was more apparent when Chipper just jogged to first, expecting to be thrown out) and it pulled Allen Craig off the bag, but it looked like Craig got his foot back on the bag before Chipper got there.


When Freddie Freeman doubled a batter later, suddenly Atlanta had the tying run at the plate with two outs in the ninth. Motte got Dan Uggla to end it, but that call could have also gone down in history as a game-changer as well.

There were strange plays and wild calls all through this one and Andrelton Simmons might be wondering just why he's such a magnet for these things.  Of course, it was Simmons's fly ball that landed between Kozma and Holliday, but he was also involved in another play that looked like it was going to go the Braves' way but didn't.  Simmons bunted in front of the mound in the fourth and it looked like the throw got away from Kyle Lohse, causing more Braves runners to score, but instead Simmons had run well into the grass and, as such, was out for leaving the baseline.  The Cards danced out of that trouble with an out a batter later.

Then, of course, the ball found Simmons in the field, bobbling a ball hit to him by Kozma with Adron Chambers on third.  With the bobble, Chambers was going to score anyway, but the Simmons compounded it by throwing the ball away trying to get him at the plate, allowing Kozma to go to second, where he scored on an infield hit by Matt Carpenter.  Say what you will, but the Cardinals came to play last night.

The biggest story really is the error-filled play of the Braves.  Jones's error in the fourth led to the three-run rally by St. Louis and punctured any thoughts of invincibility that the Cards might have had about Kris Medlen.  If it hadn't been for that play, the rest of the game might have been very difficult for the Redbirds.

After all this it would be easy to say that Atlanta gave the game to the Cardinals, but that really understates how well the Cards did play yesterday.  Lohse allowed a two-run home run to Ross in the second that put St. Louis in an early hole, but even that had controversy as he struck Ross out with the pitch before, only to see the umpire award a late "time-out" and nullify the pitch.  It was very late--note what this article says about the fact Ross was a catcher and wasn't confident time would be given--and while it's completely to the umpire's discretion, it would seem to be me a good rule of thumb that if the pitcher is into their delivery, time shouldn't be granted.  Another play that will be overshadowed nationally because of the infield fly and the fact the Cardinals won, but it should be noted.

Very good to see Holliday starting to warm back up.  His solo homer was the first long ball out of him since 9/14 against the Dodgers and he only hit three in the whole month of September.  (One of those was against the Nationals, which might be a point to note.)  Craig also played a big role in the offense, which was also good to see.

There were worrisome signs, though.  The outfield infield fly will overshadow the fact that Mitchell Boggs was not doing well on the mound.  A walk and a single put the runners on and while he did get two outs (one controversially) he didn't look very effective.  Whether he was too pumped about pitching in front of the hometown fans (he's a Georgia boy) or not, I don't know.  Having that solid seventh-eighth-ninth is important, though.

We also saw Mike Matheny doing his double-switching magic again.  During the 19-inning delay when the Atlanta fans did their best imitation of a toddler not getting his way, Matheny double-switched Holliday out of the game, replacing him with Shane Robinson.  David Freese had already been pinch-run for with Chambers (which panned out, as we've seen), so any extras would have seen a couple of potent bats already out of the game.  Thankfully, it didn't come to that.

Now the Cards get to fly home and start the NLDS against the Nationals on their familiar turf. We'll see Adam Wainwright vs. Gio Gonzalez in the first game, we wonder if Jaime Garcia will go in Game 2 with his home/road splits, and we get to hear a lot about the Nats not using Stephen Strasburg.  I'll try to come back later today and take a shot at looking at the first game matchup.  Until now, enjoy the win--don't let anyone tell you it was tainted or they shouldn't be moving on.  The Cardinals earned their continued postseason life and here's hoping it continues to be a charmed one.

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