Cheap Seats

The Atlanta Braves loathe the St. Louis Cardinals, and not just because of the infield fly

I would guess that most St. Louis Cardinals fans view the team’s chief rivals as the Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Dodgers or San Francisco Giants.

But it’s funny how different things can be from a different perspective. Because when it comes to postseason battles, most Atlanta Braves fans I talk to think of the Cardinals as they team they love to hate.

Besides the 1996 National League Championship Series when the Braves came back to steal a World Series berth from the once firmly in command Cardinals, it has been St. Louis that has come out on top of the multiple playoff battles between the two teams. Even though the Brewers seemed to have the hotter hand the last two weeks of the season, Atlanta baseball fans would have rather played them than needing to get past the Cardinals if they’re going to make it back to the Fall Classic.

Stuck firmly in the craw of Atlanta fans are:

The 1982 National League Championship Series when the much more powerful Braves led by former St. Louis National League Most Valuable Player Joe Torre were expected to walk all over the Redbirds on to a date with destiny. The Cardinals ended up sweeping the Braves out of what was then a five-game NLCS to win their first World Series since 1967. Atlanta was supposed to be a powerhouse for years to come. But that generation of the Braves never made it back to the World Series.

In the 2000 National League Division Series, the Braves were again expected to pound the Birds who were struggling with the fact that catcher Mike Matheny was lost due to an injury suffered when he was handling a hunting knife and rookie southpaw Rick Ankiel was coming apart at the seams when his control mysteriously vanished and never really returned. Still, the Cardinals managed to sweep Atlanta in three games including an embarrassing deciding contest at Turner Field which saw about 15,000 St. Louis fans snap up empty seats and celebrate on the Braves’ grave.

The thing that really gets Atlanta fans’ goat is the 2012 National League Wild Card Game that the Cardinals won under what some people believe were dubious circumstances. With St. Louis leading 6-3 but the Braves threatening with two on and only one out, shortstop Andrelton Simmons hit a pop-up to the left side. Cardinals pitcher Mitchell Boggs pointed skyward to indicate the pop-up while Simmons slammed his bat down and jogged to first base.

The problem is that, as St. Louis shortstop Pete Kozma settled under the ball to catch it, he suddenly reacted and jumped out of the way. It seems he thought he heard left fielder Matt Holliday call him off the ball, which bounced about 20 yards into the outfield grass. Turner Field went wild as the Braves thought they’d loaded the bases. But umpire Sam Holbrook informed manager Freddi Gonzalez that he called an infield fly meaning the batter was out. St. Louis had to pull its team off the field as the Cardinals were showered with beer bottles and other debris.

Despite the fact that they noted Kozma seemed to retreat because he thought umpire Sam Holbrook yelling “infield fly” was Holliday yelling “it’s mine,” the TBS announcers incorrectly declared the infield fly call was inappropriate because the ball made it to the outfield grass. The rule doesn’t specify where the ball is caught, but who does the catching. If an infielder can catch the ball with routine effort, it’s an infield fly. While Braves fans still gripe about the call, I wonder how they would have felt if Kozma would have let the ball drop at this feet and then picked it up and threw it to third base for one out and it was relayed to second for the inning-ending double play because the runner was forced to hold when he thought the fly would be secured. THAT is why the infield rule is there in the first place.

Anyway, the Braves fans I talk to want to see the Cardinals go down in flames, largely because of that one play that may or may not have changed the course of a single game that took place seven years ago. I imagine most St. Louis fans have forgotten about that call.

Maybe the St. Louis perspective will change, however. Atlanta seems to have a team that is built to last. If the Cardinals can build around Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson, Paul DeJong and their other youngsters, we may get used to frequent playoff battles with Braves in the next few years.