MLB commissioner Bud Selig was on his couch Friday night, his popcorn bowl tucked firmly beside him, turning up the volume as his latest brain child — two wild card playoff games that would add immeasurable intrigue to baseball's postseason — played on the television set before him.
Within hours, though, Selig (who was not contacted for confirmation of his whereabouts Friday) had given himself something more to talk about when he and reviled NFL commissioner Roger Goodell shoot their next round of golf. With a controversial call made by an umpire in the wild card game between the Braves and Cardinals, Selig set himself up to hear more criticism of poor umpiring in MLB and — if not more calls for instant replay or overturning calls — at least more comments about his great, one-game, winner-takes-all scenario, which is actually the worst thing that could have happened to this year's batch of playoff teams.
When umpire Sam Holbrook invoked the infield fly rule as the Braves threatened late in Friday's game, he immediately called the outcome of the game — and both teams' entire seasons — into question for all of baseball perpetuity. Baseball is a funny sport in that, with no time limitations, outs are of utmost importance. A rally can happen at any point and just keep going, as long as a team doesn't record its third out. But when Holbrook called the infield fly rule in the bottom of the eighth, the Braves had one out less to work with while trailing 6-3. Instead of loading the bases with just one out, they were down two outs and shy a baserunner.
St. Louis got itself out of the inning, and the Braves fell into "what if?" territory, with plenty of people thinking back to the NFL's biggest botched call in history during the recent replacement ref debacle.
But the MLB umpires on the field Friday night were trained professionals, and they even had more than the usual number of umps on the field. It was an additional umpire, in fact, who made the disputed infield fly call from the outfield grass. Holbrook used the controversial rule in a strange spot (the outfield grass, for an infield fly), and he also called it very late in the play.
All in all, it was a "worst nightmare" kind of mess, and it only gets worse when Selig has to consider who became one of the biggest victims in the whole charade.
The Braves have lost their chance at going further in the playoffs for this year, but one player — retiring Atlanta hero Chipper Jones, who has played this final season with everyone knowing it would be his last — had to watch his hope for a few more magical games disappear with a blown call. Jones also had a bad night, both at the plate and on defense, and admitted as much after the game. But the poor call was what really made the trash-hurling conclusion to his great career look like robbery.
Braves fans littered the field after the eighth inning as they screamed their displeasure at the call, tossing enough trash that the game was stopped for 19 minutes to clean it all up.
In the end, Jones had to watch his career end not with a hard loss or a good effort but rather an error-marred game, where an MLB mishap enabled a feat that should never happen in sports: an outcome being determined by the officials. (Worst part? Chipper predicted this may happen.)
It was an emotional night for Jones and an emotional night for Braves fans. Check out the photos of the mess of a game below.
Jones was downcast after the defeat.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez argues the controversial call to no avail.
Atlanta fans show their displeasure.
The call made plenty of people think of the NFL replacement refs.
Trash duty was early in Atlanta.
What a place to watch playoff baseball!
"If you look at some of the young players that emerged from the Boston minor league system and became stars or were very good players — Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester, there are a number of guys when he was the manager there he helped transition to the major league level. In addition to that, he's a great communicator and an accomplished leader."
– Indians general manager Chris Antonetti, on why Terry Francona would be a good manager in Cleveland
All these people seem to think Tito would be a good fit for the Sox. Huh.
@nesn The Sox have an opening. He did bring them 2 World Series. :-)
— Jason Tuttle (@TuttlePatriarch) October 6, 2012
It's worth one more look: Michael Phelps seems to be picking up his new sport rather well.