Inaugural Wild Card Game comes with controversial call

The 1st ever Wild Card one-game playoffs are in the books and it’s safe to say that the inaugural NL Wild Card game will be one that is remembered for a long time, especially in Atlanta. Baseball has a little bit of a problem on its hands in my opinion. In an effort to create the excitement of do-or-die elimination games every season, I’m afraid that the league has severely diminished its 162-game season.

Here’s what I like about the new Wild Card format:  It rewards division winners by giving them a couple extra days off while the Wild Card teams play a one-game playoff. It also forces the Wild Card teams to use their best starter in their do-or-die game, leaving the 2nd best starter to go up against the Division winners in Game 1 of the Division Series. After a 162-game season, this makes sense to reward the teams who excelled the most over those long 5 months.

However, the same thing that I like about the new Wild Card format is also the thing that I don’t like. Under this new format, four teams’ 162-game, 5 month-long seasons come down to one game. Why play 162 games just to settle the final playoff spot with 1 game? These Wild Card teams, which are one of the top 5 teams in their league, are at a severe disadvantage and it undermines the integrity of the league to play such a long season and then eliminate 2 teams after 1 game (or .6% of the season).

In time, I’ll get used to it and the new Wild Card format is fantastic for the fans. As a fan, I appreciate drama that comes with win or go home situations. However, I did have a bad taste in my mouth after watching the Wild Card games yesterday. That also might have something to do with the controversial call that played a huge part in the outcome of the Cardinals/Braves game. The operative word in the rule applied to this play is “infield,” and to me that play clearly took place in the outfield. The infield fly rule is in place to prevent fielders from intentionally dropping pop ups in order to set up double plays. I understand that the rule can be applied to outfielders but in this specific case short stop Pete Kozma had no intention of dropping a pop up to set up a double play. He made an error while trying to field a shallow fly ball and the miscommunication caused the ball to fall. The Braves should have had bases loaded and the error should have been charged to Kozma.

If the rule is a judgment call made by an umpire, than the umpire should have used his judgment to realize that Kozma was trying to catch this ball and was not “under control” as fielders usually are when the call is made. Secondly, this play took place in the outfield. I doubt the writers of the infield fly rule intended for it be called clearly in the outfield.  

If an outfielder is able to make a play on a fly ball/pop-up, which Holliday was in position to do in this case, then the infield fly rule should not be called. Let’s say the ball was hit to shallow left center field (same depth as the play in the question) and it’s the left-fielder and center-fielder who have a miscommunication over a ball that one or both could have easily caught. Is the infield fly rule applied here? We’ve seen that before and the infield fly rule is never applied in this situation, even though the rule book states that the infield fly rule applies to infielders and outfielders (presumably in shallow outfield). The fact that an infielder traveled into the outfield to try and make a play does not grant him the security of the infield fly rule. Finally, even if the umpire’s controversial call was correct based on the rules as written, then I believe we should change the rules. In my opinion, what happened in the 8th inning last night was in no way the infield fly rule.

I feel the Braves got rooked on this particular play and it’s unfortunate that the call can not be protested, which manager Fredi Gonzalez tried to do. Atlanta still trailed by 3 runs and there was no guaranteeing they would come back, but this poor call certainly hindered their chances. Furthermore, it created the worst situation for fans: “the what could have been had the call been made correctly” feeling. However, that does not excuse the fans classless act of littering the field with debris.

The Braves did not hit well with runners in scoring position and they uncharacteristically committed 3 errors after committing the fewest errors in the NL during the regular season. Just goes to show you the craziness and randomness (both by the umpires and the player’s execution) that can ensue in a one-game playoff. Ultimately, the Braves did not perform like they needed to throughout the game and although they were 6 games better than the Cardinals over the 162-game season, they were worse than them last night – and with the MLB’s new Wild Card format, that is all that matters.

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