To avoid this mess next time, Braves need to win the division

October 6, 2012 

When Major League Baseball announced it was going to have a do-or-die game for the wild-card spot, the scenarios were easy to play out in your mind.

If the two top teams in the wild-card race had to meet for one game to advance to the “real” playoffs, anything could happen. Whether it was one bad play, one bad coaching decision or one bad call by an umpire, anything could happen.

No matter how good a team you may have, you can always lose one game. Heck, the Houston Astros lost 107 games this past season, but on any given day even they could win one game.

Well, it took only one game for anything to happen. Friday night, everything bad that could happen to the Atlanta Braves did. There were several bad plays, a questionable decision by the manager and an awful call by an umpire.

You almost knew it would happen to Atlanta. This fan base has been scarred by bad memories of the playoffs. Even though there’s one perfect memory (the 1995 World Series), most of the postseason memories have been a nightmare.

Do the names Kent Hrbek, Kirby Puckett, Ed Sprague and Jim Leyritz ring a bell?

And, this year, the enemy was an umpire.

You can only imagine what the late Skip Caray would have said if he had seen the call by Sam Holbrook on the so-called infield fly rule call.

Remember when Skip would host the pre-game show?

“Howard in Hazelhurst, go ahead,” he would say.

“Yeah, Skip. I enjoy your show. Could you explain the infield fly rule to me?” the caller would ask, almost daily.

Then Skip would proceed to explain, albeit reluctantly and usually in full detail but with a touch of sarcasm, the infield fly rule.

But he never would have been able to explain what happened Friday night.

It was an awful call. The ball hit by Andrelton Simmons went 225 feet, well beyond the infield. The rule was written (back in 1895 by the way) to protect base runners from fielders allowing a pop fly to fall so they could quickly turn a double play. That wasn’t the case Friday.

And if you’ve ever seen it called, it’s usually signaled immediately by the umpire. Holbrook waited until about a second before the ball dropped on the ground to make the call.

It was unfortunate, and after the game the Braves’ players could only shake their heads in disgust as they listened to the so-called logic used by Holbrook and Major League Baseball.

But the Braves can only blame themselves for the loss. Sure, the blown call could have cost the Braves a big inning. But the errors made in the field by Chipper Jones, Dan Uggla and Simmons earlier in the game and the other wasted opportunities at the plate are the reasons Atlanta lost the game.

How could you have ever predicted the Braves, the team with the best fielding percentage in the NL, would have made three costly errors. It would have been one thing if they had been errors that didn’t matter, but all three hurt.

Again, anything can happen in one game, but Friday night everything happened to the Braves.

Now they have to start over again. The Braves have $46 million coming off the books this winter. They have to figure out who will replace Jones at third base, decide on center field, make a decision on the future of Brian McCann and see how the rotation shakes out.

If MLB wanted the do-or-die game to inspire teams to push for the division title, they’ve accomplished that goal. The Braves now know to trust anything or anyone for one game is just too big a gamble. They’ll have to build next year’s team to avoid having the entire season rest on nine innings.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill on Twitter@yahoo.com.

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