The Truth About The Eighth Inning Call In The 2012 Wild Card Game
Cardinal fans still love to complain about the “Denkinger call,” and how it “robbed” the 1985 Cardinals of a World Series win. And it certainly did; the 1985 Cardinals were just three outs from a World Series championship in Game Six when a botched call by first base umpire Don Denkinger led to a meltdown and a 2-1 loss. The next night, the emotionally-fried Cardinals lost Game Seven 11-0. Despite the obvious fact that the Cardinals had ample opportunities to still win that Series after the blown call, Cardinal fans still whine about “the call” as the reason why we lost that Series.
So why are Cardinal fans so quick to excuse the ridiculous “infield fly rule” call that halted a Braves comeback in the eighth inning of a one-shot wild card game?
Let’s establish a few facts: unlike the 1985 game, the Braves had only one chance to get this right. The 1985 Cardinals had multiple chances to correct one bad call and come out victorious. This wild card playoff game was a sudden-death game, and every single call mattered.
Also: The Braves played a bad game until that point. They had committed three errors by the start of play in the eighth that led to a couple of unearned runs. Perhaps they didn’t deserve to win that game. Still, they had mounted a comeback against Mitchell Boggs by coaxing a walk and a single out of him and bringing the tying run at the plate with one out.
When Andrelton Simmons popped out to shallow left field as the tying run, the play in question was most certainly the call of left-fielder Matt Holliday; he had the best view of the play. However, he suddenly deferred to rookie shortstop Pete Kozma, who was waving his arms around but never seemed to call for the ball. In the confusion, the ball fell between Holliday and Kozma.
We’ve seen this exact play happen a million times in baseball without an umpire frantically calling for an infield fly rule. But tonight, during an important one-chance game like this, the umpires called it. From all angles, it appears that left-field umpire Sam Holbrook waited to call the infield fly rule until the ball was nearly to the ground, confusing both Holliday and Kozma. Also, Kozma had ranged far from his position, violating the basic application of the infield fly rule itself. In other words, the umpires called the play late, and then compounded the problem by calling it wrong.
With the runner called out due to this rule, the Atlanta fans erupted in anger.
SIDE NOTE: The bottle-throwing reaction of the Atlanta fans was awful. It was disgraceful, particularly on a night when Chipper Jones was playing his final game. However, they reacted to a ridiculous call that denied their team the chance to tie the game. Any Cardinal fan who says that the “best fans in baseball” wouldn’t do the same is selectively forgetting the infamous seat cushion night in 1987 when fans swamped the field with the giveaway in protest of a bad call.
Here’s the bottom line: I didn’t like the wild card sudden-death game in the first place because one play could unfairly determine or undermine the integrity of the game. Everyone wants to win, of course, but who wants to win on a technicality? Only the saddest and blindest Royals fans think the 1985 Kansas City team won that World Series fairly. Had the correct call been rendered, the 1985 Cardinals (most likely) would’ve won that Series.
History will record that the 2012 Cardinals won baseball’s first-ever wild card showdown by the score of 6-3. But did the Cardinals truly earn it? Only two of the Cardinals’ six runs were earned, the rest coming from the multiple Braves errors. Meanwhile, a pesky Braves offense continuously chipped away at the Cardinals. What might have happened if the Braves had received the correct call in that eighth inning? They would’ve enjoyed a bases-loaded opportunity with one out and powerful catcher Brian McCann at the plate.
Would it have made a difference in the outcome of the game? WHO KNOWS.
The Braves never got the chance to explore those possibilities because of a terrible and bizarre umpiring call. And the Cardinals “defeated” the Braves thanks to that premature call as well.
It all leads to this point: a sudden-death playoff game is a bad idea for baseball. Unlike other sports, baseball is too dependent on the fickle bounce of a baseball, the momentary flex of a muscle, and the flash judgement of a human umpire. A baseball bouncing incorrectly off of a clump of dirt could be the difference between winning and losing in a one-game playoff.
Forcing the Braves and the Cardinals to pin their postseason hopes on something so fragile and subjective is bad for the sport. The fact that the Braves didn’t get the chance to prove themselves worthy of the postseason in that eighth inning is enough justification for the elimination of this wild card flea circus.
And before anyone says anything about the Braves being unworthy of postseason because of their errors earlier in the game: the 2011 Cardinals committed several errors and misplays in Game Six … should we disqualify their comeback late in the game because of those mistakes?? Unlike the 2012 Braves, the 2011 Cardinals had a full opportunity to correct their flaws.
Any Cardinal fan gloating over the Cardinal win in this trumped-up wild card game does not fully understand honor and integrity. In battle, victory over an enemy involves defeating them with one’s own skill. The Cardinals did not necessarily do that in this game. Instead, they defeated the Braves on a technicality, a gift from the umpires.
Winning the wild card and advancing to the playoffs should feel wonderful for any Cardinal fan. However, that win, in part, came from a botched call. Cardinal fans should remember the sting of receiving such a botched call in 1985, and also keep in mind that, unlike the 1985 Cardinals, the 2012 Braves never had a chance to recover from it.
Certainly the Cardinals won the 2012 wild card, but, in some ways, it is a hollow victory.