ATLANTA - Bedlam reigned at Turner FIeld on Friday night when a questionable application of the infield fly rule resulted in trash tossed on the field and a 15-minute delay during the eighth inning of the National League wild-card game pitting the Braves against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez played the remainder of the game - won by the Cardinals, 6-3 - under protest, but it was denied by Major League Baseball officials on the scene before the game was concluded, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said.
With the Braves trailing 6-3 in the bottom of the eighth inning, Andrelton Simmons was called out an infield fly rule on a ball he hit 65 feet into the outfield.
In an instant, a wave of blue beer cans came out of the Turner Field stands in a shower of disgust.
As soon as Gonzalez got back to the dugout and Simmons was moved off first base, the crowd exploded in a frenzy of boos and debris. Cardinals third baseman David Freese sprinted for the dugout to escape the torrent, and his teammates quickly followed.
When asked after the game if he was concerned for his team's safety, Matheny said: "Very."
The umpires gathered behind the pitcher's mound and a water bottle, apparently still half full, came skipping across the diamond.
The Braves were batting with one out and runners on first and second when Simmons hit the pop toward left. St. Louis shortstop Pete Kozma went back on the ball, then stopped as leftfielder Matt Holliday came charging.
Left field umpire Sam Holbrook called the infield fly rule and third base umpire Jeff Nelson jerked his thumb in the air, too. The rule is designed to thwart a defense that allows a ball to drop purposely to force out an advancing runner.
Instead of bases loaded and one out, it was second and third with two out.
Here's the definition of baseball's infield fly rule:
Rule 2.00 (Infield Fly) Comment: On the infield fly rule the umpire is to rule
whether the ball could ordinarily have been handled by an infielder-not by some
arbitrary limitation such as the grass, or the base lines. The umpire must rule
also that a ball is an infield fly, even if handled by an outfielder, if, in the
umpire's judgment, the ball could have been as easily handled by an infielder.
Accused for years of not being passionate about sports, Atlanta fans turned the perception around in an instant - to an unfortunate extreme.
Ray Glier, Special for USA TODAY