Instead, this ending proved much crueler and uglier than the Braves ever envisioned. In a seemingly unjust way, Jones’ final memories of his Hall of Fame career will be tarnished by an errant throw and the ugly scene that followed a questionable infield fly rule call.
Jones’ throwing error fueled the three-run fourth inning the Cardinals used to propel themselves toward a 6-3 win over the Braves in the National League’s one-game Wild Card playoff on Friday night at Turner Field.
The Braves had won each of the previous 23 games started by Medlen and Jones had enjoyed storybook moments throughout his magical final season. But this conclusion was far from storybook.
“It hurts,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez of the loss.
“Whether it’s a bad call or a bad play or we didn’t get to drive in the run. Nevertheless, in my opinion, I think you’ve got to judge our team over the 162-game season. I’m so proud of them. Anybody could have one bad game. Anybody could have one bad call ... 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.”
Those who witnessed the final game of Jones’ career might remember it more for the near-riot that occurred when left-field umpire Sam Holbrook made an infield fly ruling after shortstop Pete Kozma proved unsuccessful in attempting to catch Andrelton Simmons’ bloop that landed approximately 90 feet beyond the outfield dirt.
“It’s an infield fly rule,” said Gonzalez. “I was arguing or protesting that it was not an ordinary effort. I thought that the shortstop had to go way out there to make a play on that fly ball, and I think we’ve got to take account of the crowd, 50,000 people yelling, and I thought there was some miscommunication between [Matt] Holliday and Kozma. I went out there and protested the game, and they came in and talked to Joe -- I don’t know if it’s Joe Garagiola or Joe Torre -- because the protest, obviously, there is no game tomorrow, so it’s got to be done right there and now. So they came back and told me that they’re going to go with what they called it on the field.
“I thought the umpires did a nice job handling that with my protest, and calling and trying to get information. Again, from where I was, I just kind of took a glimpse of the replay, I thought we have a legit beef.”
When the umpires mad a late infield fly rule call that resulted in Simmons being called out, fans began throwing bottles and cups on the field. Play was delayed 19 minutes as the players and umpires waited for order to be restored.
“For me, that’s uncalled for,” said Gonzalez. “I think we, as fans, and I understand. I understand the disappointment. But we can’t do that. As Atlanta Braves and people from Georgia, it doesn’t look good, and I’m a little disappointed in our fans from that point.”
Once play resumed, Brian McCann drew a walk to load the bases with two outs against Cardinals closer Jason Motte. But Michael Bourn then struck out to end the Braves’ threat.
Provide an early advantage courtesy of the two-run homer David Ross hit in the second, Medlen appeared to be in command as he kept the Cardinals hitless through the first three innings. But the Cards quickly seized momentum after Carlos Beltran opened the fourth with a single to right field.
Matt 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.
Adding to the ugliness of the evening, the Braves committed three errors, including two in St. Louis’ two-run seventh. Just two of the five runs Medlen surrendered in 6 1/3 innings were earned.
Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse struck out four of the five batters he faced before issuing a two-out walk to Dan Uggla in the second. Ross then followed with a two-run homer after home-plate umpire Jeff Kellogg awarded him time seemingly after Lohse had started his delivery. After swinging through a changeup after time had been called, Ross hit the changeup that followed over the left-center-field wall. The Braves suddenly felt good about the advantage provided Medlen, who had allowed two runs or fewer in 11 of his 12 starts.
But the Braves would struggle to put up much more of a threat against Lohse, who was charged with two earned runs and six hits in 5 2/3 innings.
Freddie Freeman opened the bottom of the fourth with a single and eventually advanced to third base when Ross caught the Cardinals off guard with a one-out bunt single. Simmons then seemed to show his youth when he followed with yet another one-out bunt and Medlen on deck.
Freeman and Ross both crossed the plate after Lohse fielded the bunt and then saw his throw bounce off Simmons’ helmet and down the right-field line. But Kellogg quickly and correctly ruled Simmons out because he was hit while running inside the first-base line. This resulted in a dead ball that put Ross and Freeman back on first and third base.
During an in-game interview, Gonzalez said he had called for a safety squeeze. Freeman did not move toward the plate on the bunt that was hit directly toward Lohse.
Facing a three-run deficit with two on and two outs in the seventh, Jones had a chance to make amends for his throwing error and added another memorable moment to his final season. But left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski got him to hit a grounder directly toward second baseman Daniel Descalso.
In the ninth, Jones beat out an infield hit and Freeman followed with a ground-rule double to bring up the potential tying run, but Uggla grounded out to second to end the game and Jones’ Hall of Fame career.