Saturday October 6, 2012

ATLANTA -- David Freese and the St. Louis Cardinals rediscovered their postseason touch. Chipper Jones and the Braves kept throwing the ball away. And the Atlanta fans turned Turner Field into a trash heap.

They said anything could happen in baseball’s first wild-card playoff.

Boy, did it ever.

In a game protested by the Braves, Matt Holliday homered and the defending World Series champion Cardinals took advantage of three Atlanta throwing errors -- the most crucial of them by the retiring Jones -- to take the winner-take-all playoff 6-3 on Friday.

MLB executive Joe Torre said the protest was denied. St. Louis advanced to face Washington in the best-of-five division round, beginning Sunday at Busch Stadium.

The Braves are done for this season, the recipients of another heartbreaking loss in the playoffs.

The 40-year-old Jones is all done, period. He managed an infield hit in his final at-bat but threw away a double play ball in the fourth, which led to a three-run inning that wiped out Atlanta’s early 2-0 lead behind Kris Medlen.

"Ultimately, I feel I’m the one to blame," Jones said. "That should have been a tailor-made double play."

But this one-and-done game will be remembered for the eighth, when a disputed call on a fly ball that dropped in short left field cost the Braves a chance at extending Jones’ career.

The Braves thought they had the bases loaded with one out after the ball fell between two fielders, who got mixed up over who had called for it. But left-field umpire Sam Holbrook called Andrelton Simmons out under the infield fly rule -- even though the ball landed at least 50 feet beyond the dirt.

When the fans realized what had happened, they littered the field with beers cups, popcorn holders and other trash, leading to a 19-minute delay as the Cardinals retreated to their dugout.

"It was scary at first," St. Louis 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 shortstop Pete Kozma calling for the ball, before he veered away at the last moment. "That’s when the call was made."

Asked if he thought he made the proper ruling after seeing the replay, Holbrook replied, "Absolutely."