Published October 06, 2012
| Sports Network
Atlanta, GA – One year later, the storyline is all too familiar for the Braves.
And for one Atlanta player, the curtain has fallen on his extraordinary career.
Allen Craig ignited a three-run fourth inning with an RBI double, Matt Holliday smashed a solo homer and the St. Louis Cardinals posted a 6-3 victory over a mistake-prone Braves team in the National League Wild Card playoff game at Turner Field.
The winner-take-all contest will not best be remembered for being third baseman Chipper Jones' swan song, but rather for a questionable call that came during a critical moment.
Freddie Freeman walked to start the bottom of the eighth for Atlanta and David Ross, subbing for a banged-up Brian McCann, lined a one-out single to center field.
Andrelton Simmons then lofted a pop up that fell in between shortstop Pete Kozma and Holliday. Left field umpire Sam Holbrook inexplicably called a late infield fly, resulting in fans littering the field with debris.
"I haven't seen one called where the guy wasn't camped," Jones said about the controversial ruling. "You know, normally when you're that far out, nobody's camped. But I saw the rule where it doesn't necessarily have to be an infielder, it could be an outfielder who comes in and ultimately makes the play. But you really don't see any clear indication that one of the two was camped."
From that point on, the Braves played the game under protest, which was denied.
"I saw the shortstop go back and get underneath the ball where he would have had ordinary effort and would have caught the baseball, and that's why I called the infield fly," said Holbrook.
Following an extended delay, Jason Motte entered from the bullpen and struck out Michael Bourn after walking a pinch-hitting McCann to load the bases.
With two outs in the ninth, Jones temporarily prolonged his career and the Braves' season by reaching on a broken-bat infield single. He was safe when second baseman Daniel Descalso's throw pulled Craig's foot off the bag.
"Obviously, you turn around and see 50,000 people up on their feet cheering you it gives you a little extra incentive to go out there and try to start a rally," Jones said.
Freeman followed with a ground-rule double, but Dan Uggla grounded out to end the game.
"I walk out of here knowing that I brought it every single day," Jones said. "I think when you walk out of here knowing that you brought it every day, it makes walking away on the final day a little bit easier."
Kyle Lohse (1-0) scattered six hits over 5 2/3 innings to pick up the first postseason win of his career. The right-hander's lone blemish was Ross' two- run homer in the second.
St. Louis, the defending World Series champ, finished six games behind Atlanta in the wild card standings. The Cardinals, of course, trailed Atlanta by 10 1/2 games in late August last season before securing the wild card on the final day following the Braves' epic collapse.
The Cardinals will next face the NL East champion Washington Nationals in the divisional round. St. Louis will host the first two games of the best-of-five set that gets underway Sunday.
"They have all the components to a winning team," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said about the Nationals. "It's just going to be an opportunity for our guys to go out and compete, and that's all they're looking for."
Atlanta had to feel its chances of advancing in the postseason for the first time since 2001 were favorable considering Kris Medlen (0-1) toed the rubber on Friday.
The Braves had won 23 consecutive starts by Medlen, who surrendered five runs -- two earned -- on three hits in 6 1/3 innings to absorb his first loss as a starter since May 26, 2009.
Lohse struck out four of the first five batters he faced before issuing a two- out walk to Uggla. Ross was the next hitter and Atlanta skipper Fredi Gonzalez opted to start the veteran backup catcher over McCann. The move made Gonzalez look like a genius when Ross blasted a home run over the wall in left-center field.
Ross, though, homered after a would-be strike three swing-and-miss was erased by a timeout called by Ross and granted -- fairly late -- by home plate umpire Jeff Kellogg. Instead of the inning being over, the Braves wound up with an early lead.
But the Cardinals struck back with a three-run fourth, capitalizing on a miscue by Jones.
Carlos Beltran led off with St. Louis' first hit of the game, a single to right field, then Holliday hit a grounder that may have resulted in a double play if not for Jones firing an errant throw to second base.
Craig followed with an RBI double over Martin Prado's head in left field and Yadier Molina, who was robbed of a home run by Jason Heyward two innings earlier, plated the tying run with a groundout. Heyward had made the terrific leaping grab at the right-field wall while fighting the sun.
David Freese, the 2011 NLCS and World Series MVP, put the Cardinals on top with a sacrifice fly.
The Braves threatened in the bottom of the fourth, putting men on the corners with one out. Simmons dropped down a bunt, but was called out for interference as Lohse's throw went off the top of his helmet. Medlen went down swinging to end the inning.
After Holliday went deep in the sixth, St. Louis took advantage of Atlanta's shoddy defense to further pad its lead in the next frame.
Freese reached second on Uggla's throwing error to begin the seventh and pinch-runner Adron Chambers moved to third on a sac bunt. Kozma then hit a ground ball to short and Simmons' throw home sailed wide, allowing Chambers to score.
With Jonny Venters on the mound, Kozma hustled home all the way from second on an infield single by a pinch-hitting Matt Carpenter.
The Braves trimmed their deficit to 6-3 in the home half of the seventh as pinch-hitter Jose Constanza stroked a one-out triple and scored on Bourn's 4-3 groundout. Heyward followed a Prado single by blooping a double off Marc Rzepczynski, but the Cardinals' reliever retired Jones on a groundout to thwart the rally.
The Cardinals improved to 10-4 against Atlanta in the playoffs ... St. Louis lost five of six meetings against the Braves during the regular season. All the games were played in May ... Atlanta has dropped seven straight postseason rounds ... The Braves were 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position and left 12 men on base.