Braves' season dies in a sea of controversy

907213.jpg

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.

Quick Links

Wizards take stock of good and bad at midpoint of season

Wizards take stock of good and bad at midpoint of season

With their 104-101 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night, the Wizards improved to 22-19 overall through 41 games, the exact midpoint of the 2016-17 season. They play again the next night in New York, so there will be little time for reflection of how they got here. But after beating the Grizzlies, head coach Scott Brooks and several of his players took a look back and a look ahead.

After beginning the season 2-8, they are now three games over .500. What have they liked about their season so far, and what do they still believe can be improved?

Brooks went into extensive detail.

“I didn’t like our start; I liked the last part of the first half, where we’ve played a much better since December. The thing I liked about the start [is that] we didn’t give in to a tough start, we kept battling and figuring out ways to get better – we’re tweaking and tinkering with the lineup, the starters mixing with some of the guys coming off of the bench. Some of our younger players have really done a good job of developing and staying with it when they’re not playing. It can be tough on you mentally, but I think our staff has done a good job to keep them engaged and keep them developing.

"I think Kelly [Oubre] has made some strides. He’s taken a few steps forward [and] taken a step back, but the step back he takes, he doesn’t get frustrated and takes another step. He always seems to bounce back and come back. Otto [Porter] has, I think, developed into the most consistent shooter in the league from the three. Every night it seems like he has it. And John [Wall] and Brad [Beal], I like the way they’re playing and leading. March [Marcin Gortat] has done a good job. I think we’re playing much better because we’re really buying into each other, and I think when you do that, teams have trouble beating us. I think at home, we’ve figured that out, but we have to figure out how to do it on the road.”

Guard Bradley Beal agreed with Brooks, that he was most pleased with how the Wizards rebounded from their dreadful start. 

“I like how we fought through adversity. I think we didn't give up on our slow start. We battled back and now we're over .500 now but just imagine if we were playing the way we were supposed to the first couple of games, our record would probably be a lot different. Definitely proud of the way we've been playing, the way we bounced back. We definitely can get better at playing great defense for 48 minutes, being locked in for 48 minutes. Just making sure we continue to respect our opponents and be prepared for every game moving forward.” 

[RELATED: CMills asks why Wall, Beal don't get more national attention]

Otto Porter gave a few reasons why he thinks they are playing better now than before.

“Back then it was early. We were still figuring each other out. New coaches, new players. Right now, we are starting to figure things out. We are confident in ourselves, playing for each other, playing hard and just rolling with it... Just, I guess figuring out things defensively. Everybody is on the same page. Offensively, just letting the game come to us. Moving the ball, and knowing that we want to be a defensive team," he said.

Improving away from the Verizon Center was a common theme in the answers from players. The Wizards are now 18-6 at home, while only the Golden State Warriors have more home wins. On the road, the Wizards are only 4-13 with the Nets the only NBA team featuring less road victories.

That's enough to give them the fifth seed in the East, but they know they still have plenty of work to do.

“We have a lot we can improve on: just closing out games, playing for a full 48-minutes, moving the ball at times when we get stagnant, but I like the effort that we gave," guard John Wall said of the first half of the season. "The way that we started the season, the way we had a great month of December, and we're playing well right now. It's great to take care of home court, just want to for the second half of the season improve on the road. If we can find a way to improve on the road I feel like we could have a better record. To be in the situation we are now, the way that we started the season, you can't ask for more.”

The Wizards were in a reflective mood, but Marcin Gortat put it bluntly where he thinks the Wizards are currently at.

“[The 22-19 record means] nothing. We have to continue to do what we do. We aren’t getting excited. We’ve been in this situation where we’ve been minus-five, under .500. We just have to focus and play and now we have to get some wins on the road," he said.

[RELATED: Grizzlies pay for ignoring Otto Porter]

Last-second layup secures Virginia Tech win over Georgia Tech

Last-second layup secures Virginia Tech win over Georgia Tech

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Seth Allen scored the final two of his 17 points on a layup with 15 seconds left to lift Virginia Tech to a 62-61 victory over Georgia Tech on Wednesday.

It was a game the Hokies needed after losing three of their past four games. Allen hit 6 of 9 from the floor, including three 3-pointers, and Zach LeDay added 17 points.

Virginia Tech (14-4 overall, 3-3 ACC) led by as many as nine in the second half, but couldn't put away the Yellow Jackets (11-7, 3-3), who had two chances in the final seconds to take the lead. Georgia Tech turned the ball over with :09 left, and then fouled Virginia Tech's Justin Robinson, who missed the front end of a one-and-one.

Quinton Stephens missed a contested jumper at the buzzer that would have won the game for Georgia Tech.

Stephens paced the Yellow Jackets with 18 points.

MORE NCAA: Should Georgetown consider parting ways with John Thompson III?