Cardinals, Orioles win playoff games

SURPRISE EXITS::The Braves lost against the last team to secure a place in the post-season, while just a week ago, the Rangers were leading the AL West by four games

AP, ATLANTA

Sun, Oct 07, 2012 - Page 19

MAJOR LEAGUES

The St Louis Cardinals beat the Atlanta Braves 6-3 and the Baltimore Orioles eliminated the Texas Rangers 5-1 as the two visiting teams won the MLB wild-card games on Friday, advancing to their leagues’ respective division series.

They were surprising defeats for both the losers; Atlanta was at home against a St Louis team that was the last to secure a spot in the post-season, while Texas had controlled the American League West division most of the season, only to slip into a wild-card spot on the last day, and now its season is over.

The Braves-Cardinals game was held up for 19 minutes in the eighth inning as irate fans rained trash onto the field to protest against a controversial umpiring call.

However, the Braves’ elimination was less due to the umpires than it was to a throwing error by Chipper Jones that led to three Cardinals runs. It was a disappointing end to Jones’ storied career, spent entirely with Atlanta.

St Louis, the reigning World Series champions, advanced to a best-of-five National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals, starting today.

The Rangers, who gave up a 13-game lead over the Oakland Athletics to drop into the wild-card spot on the last day, could not arrest their tailspin and were beaten by Baltimore.

The Orioles will next play the New York Yankees in their American League Division Series, with Baltimore manager Buck Showalter eager to get one over his old team.

The other division series pit Oakland against the Detroit Tigers and the Cincinnati Reds against the San Francisco Giants.

The Cardinals win over the Braves put the wild in wild card. Matt Holliday homered and St Louis rallied from an early deficit, but the game will be remembered for the fury at a contentious umpiring decision.

Atlanta thought it had loaded the bases with one out in the eighth as a fly ball fell to the grass about 15m outside the infield. Despite the ball being that far out, the umpire deemed the play was covered by the infield fly rule that prevents fielders deliberately not catching fly balls in the hope of turning a double-play. So it was ruled as an out against the Braves, even though it was well outside the infield, and the fielder involved — Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma — later said he did not mean to drop it, but simply misplayed it.

Under the new playoff system, with a sudden-death game between two wild-cards rather than one wild-card going straight into the division series, the Braves did not get another chance to make up for the errors — theirs and the umpires.

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.”

Atlanta fans expressed their disgust at the decision by throwing whatever they could find onto the field.

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.”

Texas’ defeat by Baltimore left the Rangers to reflect upon how a seemingly strong World Series tilt was ended prematurely. Just a week ago, they were four games clear atop the AL West, with only six to play.

“We just didn’t get it done,” manager Ron Washington said.

“I’m not stunned, I was right there watching it,” Washington said. “To be honest with you, I never thought anything like this would happen.”

Adam Jones hit the tie breaking sacrifice fly for the Orioles, who eked out that lead from 2-1 to 3-1 to 5-1. All the while, the Rangers could muster nothing against Baltimore’s pitching staff; starter Joe Saunders was effective into the sixth inning.

Saunders got the better of US$107 million Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish, who was as stunned as any Ranger at their reversal of fortune.

“I don’t think we all thought that it would end this early,” Darvish said through a translator. “I mean, right now, no. I don’t even know what I’m supposed to do tomorrow.”

Texas did threaten in the bottom of the ninth, loading the bases with two outs, but David Murphy flew out to left field to end the game.

“With our team, it’s just a bunch of guys that raised the bar and wouldn’t give in and still haven’t,” Showalter said. “Now they get a chance to win to roll the dice, and there’s a lot of good card players in there.”

New York might have thought it had seen off Baltimore by finishing narrowly ahead in the AL East race, but now they’re back in a fight against a team they split 18 games with this season.