I was at Turner Field in Atlanta Friday to watch the St. Louis Cardinals defeat the Atlanta Braves 6-3 in the first-ever Wild Card Play-in Game as part of the newly designed MLB Postseason.
The Braves played a terrible ballgame. They committed three errors, each leading to Cardinal runs. St. Louis managed only six hits, but scored six runs – four of them unearned. Atlanta, meanwhile, racked up 12 hits, but managed just three runs, leaving 10, 12, 18, 21 runners on base, depending on where you look (seriously, is it that difficult?).
But none of that merits a blog post.
Then, “the call” was made by left field umpire Sam Holbrook in the bottom of the eighth inning – the common sense-defying, if not rule-defying application of the infield fly rule to a ball landing in the outfield some 225 feet from home plate.
How Holbrook could reason that St. Louis shortstop Pete Kozma was exercising “ordinary effort,” or was “in position” to catch a ball he couldn’t see, or, to the casual observer, was anywhere near the infield, is beyond me. How Holbrook could think that the Atlanta baserunners were in any danger of being deceived into a double play and would be aided by his raising of an index finger less than a second before the ball hit the grass is again unfathomable.
How Holbrook could feel inanimate being relegated to calling fair or foul balls down a chalk line in the outfield; how he would desire to do something, even if it was out of his jurisdiction… that makes a little more sense.
But none of that merits a blog post, either.
Is the Wild Card Game right for baseball? Chipper Jones prophetically stood out against it just two weeks prior to the game being his last:
You say to yourself, we could possibly have the second- or third-best record in the National League when the season’s over and we have to play a one-game playoff just to get in, that doesn’t seem fair because anything can happen [in one game]. Now if you were to say the two wild-card teams will play a best two-out-of-three [series], I’d be OK with that. We play three-game series all the time, and we concentrate on winning those series all the time. I think it’s more fair from a standpoint that anything can happen in one game — a blown call by an umpire, a bad day at the office … at least in a two-of-three-game series you have some sort of leeway. [emphasis added]
Well before last night, I had sided with Jones. You don’t follow a 162-game regular season with a best-of-one playoff round. More than any other sport, the series is essential to baseball. Even a bad team can have one dominant pitcher capable of winning one game. Winning the Postseason rounds that follow require more complete teams than a one-game play-in can adequately determine.
But it’s great for ratings. And attendance. I don’t know if I would have made the drive to Atlanta for a Divisional Series contest. Knowing that I would see a definitive outcome at the end of that one game got me to the ballpark. Wild Card Play-in: Bad for baseball, but I loved it in person. The claim of hypocrisy is self-evident and duly noted.
But again, though my word count is getting there, none of this inspired me to write.