One year after losing their lead in the Wild Card standings on the regular season's final day, the Braves were the first team eliminated by the one-game playoff instituted when Major League Baseball added a second Wild Card team this year.
In many instances, the Braves might have been frustrated by the fact that it was the Cardinals who dashed their World Series dreams two consecutive years. But that seemed to be the furthest thing from their minds as they exited Turner Field on Friday night.
"It hurts," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "It hurts losing ballgames the way we did tonight."
Atlanta had won each of the past 23 games started by Kris Medlen, and this seemed to be the start of a magical finish that Jones seemed destined to experience before retiring. All seemed to be right until everything seemed to go wrong.
Playing the final game of his Hall of Fame career, Jones committed the most costly of Atlanta's three errors. His errant throw on a sure-fire double-play grounder hurt Medlen, who allowed five runs (two earned) in 6 1/3 innings.
But when fans think about Jones' last game, they will remember the reaction to left-field umpire Sam Holbrook's late infield fly ruling as the Braves were attempting to make an eighth-inning rally. The disputed call led a number of fans to throw cups, bottles and a variety of other objects on the field during a 19-minute delay.
"I know one thing is for sure, you won't be able to say that Braves fans don't care," Jones said. "They came out in full force tonight, 50,000 strong. We love each and every one of them. Obviously, you don't want to see what happened there in the eighth inning happen. But when you've got a Game 7 and your whole season is on the line, obviously there was a call that did go against the home team. Unfortunately, things like that are going to happen."
Holbrook's ruling came when Andrelton Simmons' lazy fly ball fell between left fielder Matt Holliday and shortstop Pete Kozma, who never seemed to find the ball after racing approximately 90 feet behind the infield dirt.
Instead of having the bases loaded with one out and Brian McCann coming to the plate, the Braves had runners on second and third base with two outs. That threat ended when Cardinals closer Jason Motte struck out Michael Bourn with the bases loaded.
One inning later, Jones produced a broken-bat infield single in the final at-bat of his career. First-base umpire Mike Winters seemed to give Jones the benefit of the doubt on a close call at first. This nearly became a significant issue when Freddie Freeman bounced a ground-rule double over the left-center-field wall. But the game ended with Dan Uggla grounding out to second base.
"It's hard," Uggla said. "You never envision a game like this. This was a crazy game. I envisioned Chipper going out a champion. But in our eyes, he's still going to go out a champion. It [stinks] it had to end like this, but there is nothing we can do about it now."
Provided an early advantage courtesy of Ross' two-run homer off Kyle Lohse in the second, Medlen appeared to be in command as he kept the Cardinals hitless through the first three innings. But St. Louis quickly seized momentum after Carlos Beltran opened the fourth with a single to right field.
Holliday followed with a sharp grounder that had the makings of a double play until Jones' throw to second base sailed into right field. Allen Craig followed with an RBI double, and Yadier Molina tied the game with a grounder that scored Holliday. The Cardinals grabbed a 3-2 lead with David Freese's sacrifice fly.
"Ultimately, three errors cost us the ballgame, mine probably being the biggest," Jones said. "Did [Holbrook's ruling] cost us one out? Did it cost us one run, possibly more? Yes. But I'm not willing to sit here and say that that call cost us the ballgame."
The seventh was one of the ugliest innings the Braves played all year. Uggla fielded Freese's grounder to open the inning, then made an errant throw that ricocheted toward the plate. After a sacrifice bunt, Simmons bobbled a one-out grounder and made an errant throw to the plate that put Kozma in position to score on Matt Carpenter's infield single.
Lohse struck out four of the five batters he faced before issuing a two-out walk to Uggla in the second. Ross followed with a two-run homer that also would have sparked controversy had Atlanta won. Just before he hit the shot over the left-center-field wall, he was awarded time by home-plate umpire Jeff Kellogg after Lohse had seemingly started his delivery.
It was that kind of night for the Braves, who seemed to be in business when Ross' bunt single gave them runners at the corners with one out in the fourth. Cognizant of his team's recent offensive struggles, Gonzalez called for Simmons to execute a safety squeeze bunt.
When the bunt went directly to Lohse, Freeman did not break toward the plate. Lohse's throw hit Simmons and went to right field. Both Freeman and Ross would have scored had Kellogg not correctly called interference on Simmons, who was inside the first-base line.
"I think you've got to judge our team over a 162-game season," Gonzalez said. "I'm so proud of them. Anybody could have one bad game. Anybody could have one bad call, whatever, and go against you. But you win 94 games after the September we had last year, and you've got to tip your hat to this club."