A controversial -- and potentially pivotal -- call in a one-game playoff Friday night between the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals prompted a vehement argument by the Braves' manager and fans to toss debris onto the field.
The incident occurred in the eighth inning of the newly introduced wild card baseball postseason game, in which the two teams battled for the right to advance to a National League division series.
At the time, St. Louis led Atlanta by a 6-3 score. With one out and runners on first and second base, Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons skied a pop-up to shallow left field.
Amid apparent confusion between two Cardinals' players, the ball dropped -- which could have led to the Braves loading the bases. But instead, an umpire ruled Simmons out, citing the infield fly rule. The rule is traditionally invoked on pop flies in the infield, in order to prevent fielders from letting a ball drop -- in order to get two outs instead of one, had they caught the ball.
Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez stormed out of the dugout to protest the call, while angry fans pelted the field with cups, bottles and other debris.
After an 18-minute delay, play finally resumed -- with the umpires ruling the call still valid, and the Braves then playing the game under protest.
Braves' pinch-hitter Brian McCann then walked before the Cardinals' Jason Motte struck out Michael Bourn to end the inning.
After two quick outs in the ninth inning, Atlanta's Chipper Jones -- the team's legendary third baseman who has announced this is his last season -- got on base with an infield hit.
Freddie Freeman then rocketed a ground rule double, bringing the tying run to the plate in the form of Dan Uggla. Yet the second baseman ended the game -- and the Braves' season and, with it, Jones' career -- by grounding out to second base.
Matthew Bolus, a 19-year-old lifelong Braves fan who had driven all the way from Birmingham, Alabama, for the game, was among those fans who felt cheated by the call.
"I feel like I didn't see the game that I was supposed to see," he said.
Atlanta fans responded to the final out with more boos, as well as a smattering of more debris flying onto the field. The disgust was interrupted only by a chant of "Chipper," recognizing the end of the fan favorite Jones' career.
Joe Torre, a former player and manager who is now Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations for Major League Baseball, told reporters later that he talked with umpire crew chief Jeff Kellogg during the long delay. After the game concluded, Torre talked to Gonzalez and Braves General Manager Frank Wren about their protest.
During the regular season, teams have 24 hours to file a written protest, after which baseball executives can make a judgment. But Torre said that timetable "just didn't make sense" with the game's victors advancing to the next round of the playoffs starting Sunday, so he decided the matter immediately.
"I spoke to them and asked them what (grounds) they were making the protest on," Torre said. "And I ruled, basically, to disallow the protest based on the fact that it's an umpire's judgment call."
When asked after the game if he doubted whether he made the right call after the boos and debris started raining down, umpire Sam Holbrook said succinctly, "Absolutely not."
With the 6-3 victory, St. Louis advances to play the National League East champion Washington Nationals in the next round of the playoffs. The San Francisco Giants face off against the Cincinnati Reds in the league's other postseason series.
Following the game, Gonzalez criticized what he deemed "a bad call," saying the ball was too far out in the outfield to warrant the infield fly rule. Still, he said he was "a little disappointed" with fans who threw objects on the field and pointed out how the Braves' three errors and inability to drive in more runs also contributed to the loss.
"Anybody can have one bad game, anybody can have one bad call go against you," the Atlanta manager said. "It hurts losing ballgames like we did tonight."
Torre acknowledged some may understandably disagree with the eighth-inning call. Yet he pointed out that mistakes -- including errors by fielders and strikeouts by hitters -- have been part of baseball for as long as the sport has been around.
"I think controversy is part of what we do, because the game is not perfect," Torre said. "That's always been the game."
The American League one-game playoff match between the Baltimore Orioles and the Texas Rangers did not have the controversy or trash throwing.
Baltimore won the game 5-1, continuing the miracle season the team is having.
The Orioles will move on to play the New York Yankees on Sunday.