Cardinals and Orioles are colorful and delightful birds that are welcome guests in my Virginia backyard, but they were rude and unsparing to their hosts in Atlanta and Arlington as the Braves and Rangers were eliminated in the first-ever Wild Card games. The Braves, bounced from the playoffs on the memorable last day of the 2011 season, were once again shown the door by the Cardinals who caught them a year ago.
Unfortunately, this game will long be remembered for some poor umpiring, particularly a bad call in the eighth inning by left-field umpire Sam Holbrook, who called the infield fly rule very late on a ball that was never caught as Cardinals’ left fielder Matt Holliday and shortstop Pete Kozma got mixed up over who had called for the ball. The Braves thought they should have had bases loaded and one out, instead it was men on second and third and two outs. After reliever Jason Motte walked the next batter, he struck out Michael Bourn to end the inning and hopes for a Braves rally vanished. What immediately followed the unfortunate call was a spontaneous eruption of boos, catcalls and trash, projectiles hurled onto the field of play that caused a nineteen minute stoppage.
It was a sad sendoff for the Braves’ Hall of Fame-bound Chipper Jones, who helped the Cardinals erase an early Braves’ lead when he threw away a sure double-play ball in the third inning, allowing the Cardinals to score three runs and take the lead they would never relinquish. Chipper did manage an infield single on a shattered bat in the ninth inning, but the game and his career ended with him on third base.
The Cardinals, who crept into the playoff picture on the last day in 2011 and went on a wondrous run to claim their eleventh World Series title, claimed the second playoff spot and held off the Brewers and Dodgers. Even without the long shadows cast by now-retired manager Tony LaRussa and now-departed slugger Albert Pujols, the Cardinals will be formidable.
For the Orioles, downtrodden for the past fifteen years, they battled the Yankees for the American League East crown before fading in the last days. For the Rangers, American League champions the past two seasons who last year were twice one strike away from a World Series win, 178 days in first place in the American League West came to naught on the final day when the Cinderella Oakland A’s caught them to claim the gonfalon. Now the Rangers will retreat to the off-season with questions about whether they will retain their star outfielder Josh Hamilton who was so disappointing the last two weeks, and whether or not manager Ron Washington, the captain of the ship that hit the iceberg, will be back in 2013.
Now on to the Division Series that promise suspense and surprises!