If the Nationals are going to win their first-ever postseason series, they're going to have to take out the defending World Series champs.
The Nationals will face the Cardinals in the National League Division Series after tonight's wild Wild Card Game victory by St. Louis, a 6-3 triumph over the Braves aided in part by an apparent misapplication of the Infield Fly Rule.
That is, assuming Major League Baseball doesn't uphold Atlanta's formal protest of the game after the controversial call in the bottom of the eighth inning. With one out and runners on first and second, rookie Andrelton Simmons lofted a popup into shallow left field. Shortstop Pete Kozma backtracked and appeared ready to make the play but then pulled off as left fielder Matt Holliday came charging in, the ball falling to the turf as everyone advanced a base.
Left field umpire Sam Holbrook, though, signaled for the Infield Fly Rule, declaring Simmons out while allowing both runners to advance one base. Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez raced out to argue with Holbrook, who didn't make the call until a split-second before the ball came down, and later filed a formal protest with crew chief Jeff Kellogg.
It's unclear how long it will take for MLB officials to rule on the protest, which if upheld would require the game to be resumed from that point. It appears unlikely that would happen, though, because protests can only be upheld if a rule was misinterpreted, not based on a judgment call like this.
UPDATE AT 9:40 P.M. -- MLB has denied the protest, on the grounds the play involved a judgment call, not a rules interpretation.
The crowd at Turner Field offered up its own protest, littering the field with bottles and garbage and forcing a lengthy delay as players retreated to their dugouts.
Ultimately, Cardinals closer Jason Motte entered to escape the eighth-inning jam and then another one in the ninth to win the game.
Thus, the Nationals are scheduled to fly to St. Louis late tomorrow morning in advance of an afternoon workout at Busch Stadium. The two teams will open the NLDS Sunday at 3:07 p.m. EDT, with Gio Gonzalez on the mound for Washington and Adam Wainwright starting for the Cardinals.
The Nationals were just in St. Louis last weekend, dropping two of three games and failing to clinch the NL East title. They did win the season series against the Cardinals, 4-3, with all seven games being played over the last month of the regular season.