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Cardinals overcome ugly delay, Braves

The SportsXchange

ATLANTA -- An improbable eighth-inning infield-fly ruling brought down the wrath of a sellout crowd and a torrent of empty water bottles and not-so-empty beer cans.

But after the 19-minute delay Friday, the St. Louis Cardinals celebrated a 6-3 win over the Atlanta Braves in the National League wild card game.

Chipper Jones' throwing error in the fourth inning gave the Cardinals the opening they needed as they scored three runs, only one of them earned.

The Braves played the game under protest after the eighth-inning debacle. Andrelton Simmons was ruled out on an infield fly rule. The ball dropped in left-center -- 75 feet beyond the infield -- out of the reach of rookie shortstop Pete Kozma. That would have plated at least one run, and when it didn't, the bottles and cans rained down on the field.

"I didn't hear anything," Kozma said. "I was under it. I'm an infielder. I should have made the play. I took my eyes off it. I was camped under it."

Cardinals manager Mike Metheny said, "We had guys jumping up hollering, 'Infield fly!' Give (the umpires) credit. They stuck with it. The umpires were out there. It was the right call."

It was an ugly ending to what began as a well-pitched game.

Not until the fourth inning, when Carlos Beltran led off with a single to right, did the Cardinals touch Kris Medlen for a hit. But then Matt Holliday followed with a ball to third. Jones fielded it cleanly but his throw sailed off for an error. Allen Craig doubled in Beltran. Yadier Molina -- robbed of a home run in the second inning by Jason Heyward's leaping catch at the outfield wall -- got Holliday home on a groundout. Then Craig scored on David Freese's sacrifice fly.

The Braves had won a major-league record 23 consecutive Medlen starts, and he took the mound with a 9-0 record and a 0.97 ERA in his 12 starts this season. But in a close game, he couldn't overcome the error and the Braves' lack of offense. He gave up a solo home run to Holliday, too, in the sixth.

Kyle Lohse's only trouble came in the second inning. With two outs and Dan Uggla at first base after a walk, David Ross called time as Lohse let loose with the fourth pitch of the at-bat. Given another chance at a 1-2 count, Ross ripped it into the sixth row in left-center.

The Braves, the National League's best fielding team with a .986 percentage, committed three throwing errors. Only two of the Cardinals' runs were earned.

"It hurts," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Whether it's a bad call or a bad play."

The Cardinals bullpen almost let the Braves back in the game in the bottom of the seventh. Jose Constanza tripled with one out and came home on a ground-out. Martin Prado singled and got to third on Heyward's triple. The stage was set for more Jones magic, but he grounded out to end the inning.

In his final game, Jones was 1-for-5, beating out an infield hit with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.

"I'm not willing to say that one call cost us the game," Jones said. "Three errors cost us the game, mine probably being the biggest one.

"Ultimately I feel I'm the one to blame. That play should have been a tailor-made double play. That's what I'm most disappointed about. I'll be walking around with that for a while."

Notes: Matheny is the first rookie manager to lead the Cardinals to the postseason since Eddie Dyer did it in 1946, when the Cardinals beat the Red Sox in the World Series. ... Matheny said he knew Kozma could catch the ball but never thought they'd get the offensive production out of him that they've gotten. Kozma had hits in 15 of his 22 starts, batting .330 (23-for-69) with 14 RBI. ... SS Rafael Furcal (right elbow) and 1B Lance Berkman (right knee) were with the club, keeping the Cardinals' clubhouse nice and loose. ... Furcal is still hoping to avoid surgery on the partially torn tendon in his elbow. ... Gonzalez made the tough decision to start Ross over usual starting C Brian McCann because Ross is better at throwing runners out, and the Cardinals put runners in motion. ... LHP Mike Minor was the third starting pitcher on the Braves' wild-card roster. Gonzalez wanted some insurance in case something strange happened to Medlen and backup RHP Tim Hudson or in case the game went 18 innings. That did happen in 2005 when the Braves played the Houston Astros in the division series. "If I'm in there, it's probably not a good thing," Minor said. ... INF/OF Eric Hinske's left-handed bat got the nod over 3B Juan Francisco's for the wild card roster because of Hinske's postseason experience. ... Jones said before the game that he knows it's time to go because he didn't feel nervous driving to the ball park.
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