The Atlanta Braves won’t find much sympathy over last night’s questionable call in the town of Pittsburgh.
In the bottom of the 8th inning last night, left field umpire Sam Holbrook called an extremely late infield fly call on a ball that landed about 225 feet from the plate, citing the “ordinary effort” clause in the complex infield fly rule as to why it was a good call. While the call may have been correct by the letter of the law, the last-minute nature of the call and generous use of the term “ordinary effort” have left the Braves with a bad taste in their mouths and a reason to overlook a game otherwise full of poor play.
The “infield fly heard ’round the world,” as it will unfortunately now be known, didn’t cost the Braves their Wild Card game victory, but Pittsburgh Pirates fans understand how a call like that can be an easy target for fans to spew venom at rather than focus on the poor play that surrounded it.
Pirates fans did just that in 2011, after an even worse call broke their spirits and catapulted them into a season-ruining free-fall.
On July 27, 2011, the Braves and Pirates played to a 3-3 tie entering the bottom of the 19th inning, when home plate umpire Jerry Meals blatantly missed a call on a sweep tag at the plate, just over 200 feet away from where Holbrook broke the Braves hearts last night.
The Pirates were outraged, their fans heartbroken.
To that point, the Pirates had been the upstart darlings of the National League, surprising everyone with a 53-48 record entering that night, and sitting just one game out of first place in the NL Central.
They would win just 19 more games the remainder of the season.
Pirate fans, even into this season and still to this day, blame Meals’ call for ruining the Pirates season. The devastating loss in a 19-inning game (in their first nationally televised game in years, no less) killed the momentum that the Pirates had built over the first three months of the season, and with no other obvious cause for their subsequent spiral, Meals became an easy scapegoat.
Of course, we all know that Meals has nothing to do with the Pirates late season fall, any more than the questionable infield fly call cost the Braves a victory last night.
The Braves lost their Wild Card match-up with the St. Louis Cardinals because they made three errors and gave a good team too many chances.
What this call did cost the Braves was their best and last opportunity to stage an improbable comeback, but as any coach in any sport will tell you, that’s exactly why you can’t put yourself in that situation in the first place.
Braves fans will fixate on the call that is getting all the attention, but what really cost them their season is the same thing that cost the Pirates theirs in 2011 – poor play.