The new playoff format implemented by Major League Baseball before this season added single elimination “wild card game” to the postseason schedule, followed by the traditional best of five series, followed by two best of seven series. Ironically enough, both teams that were in the World Series last year, the St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers, participated in each leagues first-ever wild card game for the right to play in the Divisional Series.
The Cardinals had the task of going through Atlanta and a young, talented Braves team. Atlanta got an early two-run homer but St. Louis’ bats woke up scoring three in the fourth, one in the sixth and two more in the seventh on their way to a 6-3 win. However, the Cardinals title defense living on will not be what everyone talks about after this game.
The first National League wild card game will be remembered for an incorrect infield fly rule. The Braves were at bat, trailing 6-3 in the eighth, when Andrelton Simmons hit a lazy fly ball out to shallow left that was ruled an infield fly.
The infield fly rule is an automatic out when the ball is hit high in the air, usually on the infield dirt but not always, and the fielder can make the play with “ordinary effort” and the umpire must make the call soon after the ball is hit. The rule is designed to keep infielders from intentionally dropping pop outs to create double plays.
While the Atlanta runners were allowed to reach second and third base because the ball fell, it cost the Braves an out as well as having the bases loaded. Atlanta had struggled hitting with runners on during the game so no one can definitively say the call cost them the game. However, the recoil of this controversy is actually falling on the new playoff format.
The debacle has many baseball analysts saying that having a team’s entire season come down to just one game isn’t fair. Baseball is a game that plays series during the season; so why would there be a single elimination game in the postseason? Even a quick best of three series would be sufficient if they really wanted to keep the wild card round.
The Atlanta Braves should be applauded for the class they showed in this situation. They refused to use the bad call as an excuse and instead pointed to the three errors they committed on defense. However, the fans at Turner Field did not show as much class as the team did by causing an 18 minute delay after the call was made. It’s understandable to boo a call you don’t agree with, but you shouldn’t throw so much debris on the field that the game has to be stopped; it makes a bad image for your city.
The lesson to be learned from this is that baseball is a game that was meant to be played in series. Adding a single elimination wild card game seems to be bringing more of the bad kind of drama to the MLB product.