Atlanta Braves' Chipper Jones tips his helmet to the crowd at his last at-bat during the ninth inning of the National League wild card playoff baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals, Friday, Oct. 5, 2012, in Atlanta. The Cardinals won baseball's first wild-card playoff, taking advantage of a disputed infield fly call that led to a protest and fans littering the field with debris to defeat the Braves 6-3. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
ATLANTA -- Not since Eric Gregg's strike zone kept getting wider and wider during a crucial loss to the Marlins in the 1997 National League Championship Series has an umpire draw, such ire in Atlanta.
Sam Holbrook called the infield fly rule on a ball that dropped into shallow left field and the call will live in infamy with Braves fans.
The controversial play in the eighth inning may not have cost Atlanta a victory against the St. Louis Cardinals in the first National League wild-card play-in game. But it certainly will be talked about all offseason and into years to come.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez played the rest of the 6-3 loss under protest, but that was quickly disallowed by Joe Torre, MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations.
Torre said it was a "judgment call" and Holbrook insisted after the game that he had made the right decision.
Asked if he was as confident after seeing the replay as he was originally, the umpire said, "Absolutely."
Home plate umpire Jeff Kellogg said everyone in his six-man crew saw the play the same way. "Everybody was on the same page," he said.
Most in the standing-room-only crowd of 52,631 on Friday night had a different opinion, though.
Bottles and cups flew out of the upper and lower decks, littering Turner Field, as fans booed and booed.
It took the grounds crew most of the 19-minute delay to clear the debris so play could resume.
"I was concerned that once we went back into our positions, it may happen again," Kellogg said of the hail of thrown objects. "But fortunately, it did not happen."
Braves president John Schuerholz released a statement calling the fans' actions "uncharacteristic and unacceptable."
"Fortunately nobody got hurt," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said.
The Braves were down by the final score but rallying when the game turned bizarre.
With two runners on and one out, Andrelton Simmons hit a high popup to shallow left field. St. Louis shortstop Pete Kozma drifted back, but then peeled off as the ball fell behind him and in front of left fielder Matt Holliday, apparently loading the bases.
But Holbrook, on the left-field line, raised his hand just before the ball dropped to signal an out under the infield fly rule.
Instead of the bases being loaded and one out, the Braves had runners at second and third with two outs.
An outraged Gonzalez rushed onto the field and Braves fans let fly.
" ... My problem with the call was that I thought the shortstop went out there a long, long, long ways to try to catch that ball," Gonzalez said.
When play resumed, Brian McCann walked as a pinch hitter. But Michael Bourn struck out to end the inning.
The infield fly rule, for which former Braves announcer Skip Caray regularly voiced his disdain, can be called on a ball hit into the outfield if it looks like the fielder can make the play with ordinary effort. The rule, archaic as it may be, is designed to keep a fielder from faking a catch and trying to get a double play after deceiving the runners.
Asked if he had ever seen the infield fly called on a ball hit that far into the outfield, retiring Braves third baseman Chipper Jones was noncommittal.
"I'm not going to say that I haven't," he said. "(But) I haven't seen one called where the guy wasn't camped. 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."
It looked like it should have been Holliday's ball.
"Our guys would have made this a whole lot easier if we make the play, and they make that play 99 times out of a hundred," Matheny said.
Fans were already upset because Simmons had been called out for running on the grass to first base when he was hit by the throw on a safety squeeze bunt in the fourth inning, depriving the Braves of a run.
But the Braves also benefited in the second inning when Kellogg granted time out late. Not sure that his request had been granted, David Ross swung and missed at an apparent strike three. But given a second chance, the catcher connected with Kyle Lohse's next pitch for a two-run homer.
Unfortunately for the Braves, it would be the only time they led in the game.
Not wanted to set off the crowd again, the Cardinals didn't celebrate on the field after the last out.
"We felt it was best for the players not to take that risk," Matheny said.