Braves' season dies in a sea of controversy

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Braves' season dies in a sea of controversy

From Comcast SportsNetATLANTA (AP) -- Talk about a wild card.This one was just plain wild.Chipper Jones played his final game. The Atlanta fans turned Turner Field into a trash heap after a disputed infield fly. And the St. Louis Cardinals did what they always seem to do in October.Celebrated another postseason triumph.Matt Holliday homered and the Cardinals rallied from an early deficit, taking advantage of three Atlanta throwing errors -- the most crucial of them by the retiring Jones -- to beat the Braves 6-3 in a winner-take-all wild-card playoff Friday.In the eighth inning, there was more crazy throwing, this time by an irate crowd that littered the field to protest an umpiring decision that went against the Braves. The Cardinals fled for cover, the Braves protested and the game was halted for 19 minutes while workers cleared up all the beer cups, popcorn holders and other debris.St. Louis manager Mike Matheny was asked if he'd ever seen anything like it."Not in the United States," he said.Major League Baseball executive Joe Torre said the protest was denied. St. Louis advanced to face Washington in the best-of-five division round, beginning Sunday at Busch Stadium.The Braves are done for this season, the recipients of another heartbreaking loss in the playoffs.The 40-year-old Jones is all done, period. He managed an infield hit in his final at-bat but threw away a double play ball in the fourth, which led to a three-run inning that wiped out Atlanta's 2-0 lead behind Kris Medlen."Ultimately, I feel I'm the one to blame," Jones said.But this one-and-done game will be remembered for the eighth, when a disputed call on a fly ball that dropped in short left field cost the Braves a chance at extending Jones' career.The Braves thought they had the bases loaded with one out after the ball fell between two fielders. But left-field umpire Sam Holbrook called Andrelton Simmons out under the infield fly rule -- even though the ball landed at least 50 feet beyond the dirt. When the sellout crowd of 52,631 realized what had happened, and a second out go up on the scoreboard, they littered the field with whatever they could get their hands on."It was scary," St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina said.Holbrook defended the call, even after he looked at the replay."Once that fielder established himself, he got ordinary effort," he said, referring to shortstop Pete Kozma calling for the ball, then veering away at the last moment as left fielder Holliday drifted in. "That's when the call was made."Braves president John Schuerholz apologized for the actions of the crowd, saying a "small group of those fans acted in a manner that was uncharacteristic and unacceptable." The barrage left Holbrook fearing for his safety."When cans are flying past your head, yeah, a little bit," Holbrook said.The stoppage only delayed the inevitable. When play resumed, Brian McCann walked to load the bases but Michael Bourn struck out to end the threat. Dan Uggla grounded out with two aboard in the ninth to finish it, leading to one more wave of trash throwing as the umps scurried off the field -- probably feeling a lot like those replacement NFL refs who caught so much grief.The infield fly is a complicated rule, designed to prevent infielders from intentionally dropping a popup with more than one runner on base and perhaps get an extra out.No one could ever remember it being applied like this. And, after past postseasons dotted by contested calls, this play will certainly lead to another slew of October cries for more instant replay."I was under it," Kozma said. "I should have made the play. I took my eyes off it. I was camped under it."This is what some fans feared about a one-game playoff -- a disputed call determining a team's fate for an entire season, even with two extra umpires added for postseason games.Jones refused to pin this loss on the umps."That one play didn't cost us the game. Three errors cost us the game," he said. "We just dug ourselves too big a hole."Holliday homered in the sixth off Medlen, who had been baseball's most dominant starter over the final two months. The Braves had not lost a start by the diminutive right-hander since 2010 -- a streak of 23 games, the longest in modern baseball history.But this is the postseason.This is when the Cardinals shine.St. Louis stunningly made the playoffs a year ago at the Braves' expense, ralllying from 10 games back in the wild-card race to pass Atlanta on the final day of the season. The Cardinals on capture the championship, winning four straight elimination games while upsetting Philadelphia, Milwaukee and, finally, Texas, with the most improbable victory over all in the World Series.St. Louis was expected to fade after slugger Albert Pujols signed with the Angels and longtime manager Tony La Russa retired. And, indeed, the Cardinals wouldn't have made the playoffs without a change in the format, adding a second wild-card team in the each league. They finished six games behind the Braves during the regular season, only to hand them more misery in the postseason.The Braves haven't won a playoff round since 2001. Since then, they've gone 0 for 7 -- including six decisive losses at Turner Field.David Ross, starting in place of the slumping, ailing McCann, had the place rockin' in the second when he launched a two-run homer into the left-field seats off 16-game winner Kyle Lohse. It looked as though Ross had struck out to end the inning, but he yelled for time just before Lohse delivered the pitch. Umpire Jeff Kellogg hopped out from behind the plate waving his arms while Ross swung and missed.That call worked out for the Braves. Ross homered on the next pitch.But the Cardinals have been in this position before.Carlos Beltran led off the fourth with the first hit of the game off Medlen, a bloop single to right. Holliday followed with a hard shot to third base, and Jones made a nice backhanded scoop. The crowd cheered, expecting a double play. That turned to gasps when Jones' throw to second base sailed over the head of Uggla, winding up in right field. Instead of having no one on with two outs, Medlen and the Braves faced second and third and no outs.The Cardinals made Atlanta pay, as they always seem to do in October. Allen Craig, the replacement at first base for Pujols, lined a double off the left-field wall, cutting Atlanta's lead to 2-1. Molina followed with a groundout that brought home another run and moved to Craig over to third. He trotted home on a sacrifice fly by David Freese, the hero of last year's postseason.The Braves totally fell apart in the seventh, and Freese was right in the middle of things again. He led off with a routine grounder to Uggla, who bobbled it briefly, then unnecessarily rushed his throw to first. It wasn't close, the ball sailing off behind home plate while Freese took second. Daniel Descalso bunted pinch-runner Adron Chambers over to third, and Chad Durbin replaced Medlen.Durbin got what he wanted from Kozma -- a grounder to the drawn-in infield. But Simmons bobbled the ball and hurriedly threw it all the way to the backstop as Chambers slid across head first to make it 5-2. Kozma took second on the miscue, and he came all the way around to score on another ball that didn't get out of the infield. Matt Carpenter's bunt down the first-base line was fielded by the third pitcher of the inning, Jonny Venters, who missed a swipe tag and, with his back turned, failed to notice that Kozma kept right on running to make it 6-2."We played to win the game," Molina said. "They played to lose the game."Lohse got the win, allowing six hits and two runs in 5 2-3 innings. Medlen, who went 10-1 during the regular season, surrendered just three hits and two earned runs in 6 1-3 innings. But he gave up five runs in all, most of it none of his doing.Jason Motte earned a save by getting the final four outs, taking over after the delay.NOTES:The Braves outhit the Cardinals 12-6 but left 10 runners on base. St. Louis stranded only two. ... Lohse (16-3) and Medlen had a combined record of 26-4 during the regular season. The cumulative win percentage of .867 was the highest ever for opposing postseason starters, edging the .850 mark of California's John Candelaria (10-2) and Boston's Roger Clemens (24-4) in the 1986 AL championship series.

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Even Tanner Roark can't stop Nats' struggles against Orioles

Even Tanner Roark can't stop Nats' struggles against Orioles

The Nationals may need to lobby for a new partner in Major League Baseball's annual regional rivalry matchup.

Because the Baltimore Orioles just keep having their way with their neighbors from the south. With the Nats' 10-8 loss on Wednesday night, they are now 6-17 against the Orioles since the start 2012 and have lost six straight going back to last year. 

Baltimore has been good over the last five years, but so have the Nationals. For some reason they match up poorly against the O's, no matter what direction each team is trending when they take the field.

The Orioles, for instance, had lost five of six and and nine of 14 before hosting the Nats in the opener on Monday night. The Nats weren't exactly on fire heading into Monday, but they had won six of nine and just took three of four at the Atlanta Braves. 

Even on Wednesday, with the Nats heading home and sending Tanner Roark to the mound, their luck did not improve. Roark has been their most consistent pitcher all year, their stopper at times. The Orioles, though, chased him after five innings with five runs - four earned - on seven hits, three walks and three hit batters, tying a career-high for Roark.

The walks and hit batters were a good indication that Roark was simply not his usual self. He was trying to pitch around the Orioles' big bats and ended up costing himself.

“Just lack of focus," Roark said. "I know I needed to get inside on these guys and make them feel uncomfortable at the plate. They have the most home runs in all of baseball so you got to make it known that your going to come inside. That’s the name of the game for pitching and as a starter you have to establish inside."

That he did not and the Orioles pounded him early. The first big strike was a two-run homer by Manny Machado, his 29th of the season. Another run came home when Matt Wieters was hit with the bases loaded. One more scored on a J.J. Hardy sacrifice fly.

Machado blasted a 92 mile per hour two-seamer - Roark's signature pitch - deep into the stands in left field. Afterwards, Roark explained the challenge of facing Machado, who is now 27-for-69 (.391) with four homers and 12 RBI in 17 career games vs. the Nationals.

“He can hit the ball all over the field. He’s a good hitter. Like any good hitter you got to make him feel uncomfortable. I didn’t do that the first two at-bats," Roark said.

The second at-bat for Machado also brought in a run, one of his four RBI on the night. That was a single to center field in the second inning to score Adam Jones, who reached on an error. That run went down as unearned for Roark one of two errors for the Nats on the night.

Machado was the main culprit in what amounted to a rare off-night for Roark. It was just the fifth time in 26 starts this year he hasn't gone at least six innings. He's gone at least seven in 15 of those outings.

The Orioles win a lot of games behind their offense, but their bullpen is also a big part of their equation. Though Parker Bridwell and Zach Britton ended up making matters interesting by allowing five runs in the ninth, Orioles relievers got numerous key outs on Wednesday to hold the Nats at bay.

Mychal Givens got three straight outs in the sixth after the Nats got two men in scoring position to lead off the frame. He struck out Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman and also got Wilson Ramos to pop out. Givens got into some trouble in the seventh, but Donnie Hart struck out Bryce Harper with runners on the corners to end the frame.

Zimmerman explained what made Givens - one of Baltimore's best relievers - so tough.

“He throws sidearm 97. It seems like all the guys they have throw like that. I don’t know where they get them from. But he made good pitches," Zimmerman said.

The Nationals will now hope to avoid a four-game sweep in the season series on Thursday night with Max Scherzer on the mound. Scherzer is an ace and would seemingly give the Nats a good chance to end their skid against the Orioles. Then again, the same could have been said about Roark before Wednesday night.

[RELATED: Olympian Katie Ledecky visits Nats Park, players enthralled with medals]

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Machado's 4 RBIs help Orioles win 3rd straight over Nats

Machado's 4 RBIs help Orioles win 3rd straight over Nats

WASHINGTON—The Orioles looked like they had easily won their third straight game against the Nationals. Taking a two-run lead to the eighth, the Orioles added five runs, and had a 10-3 advantage heading to the bottom of the ninth. 

Daniel Murphy hit a grand slam home run off rookie Parker Bridwell, and suddenly it was 10-3, and Zach Britton was in the game. 

Britton gave up an earned run, his first since Apr. 30, a total of 43 games and 44 1/3 innings, then tried to get Anthony Rendon at second on a grounder to the mound by Wilson Ramos.

When that failed, the tying run was on, and Ryan Zimmerman was up. 

Britton got a double play, the long game was over, and so was his streak. 

The Orioles’ 10-8 win over Washington before a sellout crowd of 39,100 at Nationals Park, was their third straight, and Britton, who didn’t earn a save because he came in with a three-run lead without the tying run on base, at bat or on deck, and didn’t pitch an inning, still has his saves streak intact. 

“I was a little bit caught off guard, but I felt pretty good once I got in the game. Just everything that happened—the home run by Murphy, get going. I just really didn’t make good pitches tonight, really, all the way through. I think I threw maybe one good pitch, and that was about it,” Britton said. 

“I wasn’t even thinking about it. I was just thinking about needing to make some good pitches. I was getting frustrated, but it happens. A bad outing. I’ve had plenty. You’ve just got to execute pitches there. They’re a good hitting team, and right off the bat, I just didn’t make any good pitches. I just need to keep the ball down, and I wasn’t able to. I got fortunate even on the double play ball, it wasn’t crisp but I got fortunate right there.”

Britton was able to ensure that Wade Miley got his first win with the Orioles in his fifth game. 

Miley, was 0-2 with a 9.53 ERA in his first four starts. He allowed two runs on seven hits in five-plus innings. 

“Right now this time of the year it may be important for us because we’re some thin ranks right now and we need all our healthy pitchers to do what they’re capable of doing. There’s not much margin for error as we go forward here with 30-some games left,” manager Buck Showalter said. 

Miley had help from Manny Machado, who had four hits and four RBIs. 

“We know it’s going to be a battle. They’re a great team over there and they’re not just going to give up. We knew that. It’s just a matter of the time. They haven’t been swinging the bat like they have been, and we’ve finally clicked a little bit,” Machado said. 

The Orioles (70-56) quickly gave Miley (8-10) a 4-0 lead. Machado hit a two-run home run. Chris Davis doubled, Mark Trumbo walked, and Tanner Roark (13-7) hit Jonathan Schoop and Matt Wieters with pitches to score Davis. Trumbo scored on J.J. Hardy’s fly to center.

It could have been worse, but Trea Turner made a terrific sliding catch on Adam Jones’ liner to start the game. 

Washington (73-53) got a run back in the bottom of the first on Anthony Rendon’s RBI double. 

Jones began the second with an infield single, and he took second on Murphy’s error. Machado’s single gave the Orioles a 5-1 lead. 

Danny Espinosa’s 20th home run of the year in the fifth made it 5-2. 

Mychal Givens, who came on with runners on second and third in the sixth, got the next three outs, and struck out Espinosa in the seventh. Pinch hitter Ben Revere doubled, and Turner tied a franchise record with his eighth straight hit, a single.

Werth fouled to Davis, and tossed his bat away, as Donnie Hart came into face Murphy, who singled to score Revere, but struck out Bryce Harper. 

“It was good. As a competitor, this is a situation that you wanted to be in, I was kind of hoping and wishing that the phone rings and he calls my name,” Hart said. 

Machado’s fourth RBI, a single to right, scored Kim, and the Orioles moved ahead 6-3 in the eighth. 

In eight games at Nationals Park, Machado is batting .472 (17-for-36) with three homers and nine RBIs. 

Schoop added an RBI single, and Wieters hit his 11th home run, a three-run shot, to center field for a five-run inning off Blake Treinen and a 10-3 lead. 

“Ultimately we would have loved to keep Zach out of the game, so every run’s important, but getting a win is the most important thing,” Wieters said. 

 

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Nats can't complete rally as they drop third straight to Orioles

Nats can't complete rally as they drop third straight to Orioles

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 10-8 loss to the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday night at Nats Park.

How it happened: It appears the Nationals won’t be earning regional bragging right this year.

After dropping two games to the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards, the Nats were hoping for some home cooking as the series headed to D.C. They didn’t get it. Instead, they dropped their third straight to the Birds, and fourth overall.

What made Wednesday night particularly disappointing was the uncharacteristic performance of Tanner Roark, who entered the game as perhaps the Nats’ most consistent starting pitcher. From the very first batter, it was apparent the 29-year-old right hander didn’t look like himself. He allowed six of the first seven hitters to reach base, yielding a first-inning four-spot that was highlighted by Manny Machado’s two-run home run.   

The Nats countered with a run of their own in the bottom of the inning, but the Birds reestablished their four-run lead on a Machado RBI single in the second inning to make it 5-1.

From there, Roark settled down a bit, stretching an otherwise laborious outing to five innings. In the meantime, the Nats weren’t able to get to Orioles starter Wade Miley, who limited Washington to one run over five-plus innings.  

The Nats clawed back with a run in the fifth and another in the seventh, but Baltimore did enough to keep the game out of reach. Machado struck again in the eighth inning, tacking on an insurance run with an RBI single to extend the Orioles lead to 6-3. A few batters later, Matt Wieters delivered what looked like finishing blow as he drilled a three-run shot to center field to make it 10-3. 

But the Nats wouldn’t go down without a fight. After a ninth-inning grand slam by Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon soon followed with an RBI double against Orioles closer Zach Britton. However, with two men on for Ryan Zimmerman, Britton induced the game-ending double play.

What it means: The Nats losing skid is now at four, which combined with the Miami Marlins’ win Wednesday night means their NL East lead is down to seven games.

Roark struggles: To put Wednesday night’s uneven outing in perspective, consider this: Roark had allowed four runs combined over his last three starts — and he yielded that many in the first inning alone. His command was clearly off, which is never a good thing against an Orioles lineup that is known to score in bunches. In all, he allowed five runs (four earned) on seven hits over five innings while throwing 111 pitches. That’s not a typical Roark start, putting extra stress on an already-taxed bullpen.  

Turner’s historic streak: To watch a Nats game these days is to wonder what Trea Turner will do next. The 23-year-old rookie speedster has done nothing but impress in his first taste of everyday action in the big leagues. And on this night, he etched his name into the franchise record books. Turner notched his eighth hit in his as many at-bats over the last two games, which tied Dmitri Young and Andre Dawson for the Nationals/Expos record. Not bad. Not bad at all. 

Up next: The Nats will look to avoid a four-game sweep at the hands of their Beltway rivals in Thursday night’s series finale. They'll send ace Max Scherzer (13-7, 3.05 ERA) to the mound, who will be opposed by Ubaldo Jimenez (5-10, 6.94 ERA).