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.

BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Is trading for Paul George worth the risk?

george_bst_062317.jpg

BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Is trading for Paul George worth the risk?

SUBSCRIBE iTunes | Stitcher | RSS

0:41 - Michael Holley, Kayce Smith and Tom Giles recap their thoughts on drafting Jayson Tatum and trade rumors involving the Celtics.

6:21 - Ian Thomsen joins BST to discuss if it would be worth trading for Paul George as a one-year rental and if there would be a chance he could still around long-term if traded to Boston.

11:13 - Evan Drellich joins BST to talk about Rick Porcello’s outing, the Red Sox offense coming to life, and Doug Fister being claimed by the Red Sox. 

15:10 - Kyle Draper and A. Sherrod Blakely look back at the Celtics/Nets trade, what the assets have turned into, and if Danny Ainge has done a good job turning those assets into players. 

Haggerty: Bruins playing it pretty safe at the NHL Draft

Haggerty: Bruins playing it pretty safe at the NHL Draft

CHICAGO – As opening nights go at the NHL Draft, Friday night was a bit of a ho-hum affair for the Boston Bruins at the United Center home of the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Bruins went the safe route by drafting a smooth, defensive-minded defenseman with the 18th overall pick when they selected Finnish product Urho Vaakenainen, and in doing so left more dynamic forwards like Kristian Vesalainen and Kailer Yamamoto still on the draft board for other teams to claim as their own. It was a bit of a curious choice given how many defensemen the Bruins already have in the prospect pipeline, but the lack of strength in the draft class seemed to lead teams to carve their own paths looking for players.

MORE: Bruins select defenseman Urho Vaakanainen with No. 18 pick

The 6-foot-1, 188-pounder clearly has miles to go offensively despite his smooth skating and solid passing skills, but there’s also a consideration that the teenager has been playing in the men’s league in Finland for the last couple of seasons. It makes things a little more difficult to project for the Finn D-man, but the Bruins believe there is some upside to his offensive game given the skills, the hockey IQ and the considerable confidence that the player has in his own game.

“His gap control and skating ability are really good. He’s obviously played in the Finnish Elite League at a very young age for one and a half years now and he’s played on the big stage at the world juniors. We feel like there’s a lot of upside for a 200-foot player that gets back on pucks, and then can transition them back out. Being able to cover ice is an important part of the game, and it continues to evolve in that direction,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney, who indicated Vaakenainen will play in North America in 2018-19 after fulfilling his contractual obligations in Finland. “We tracked what he did on offense at the junior league level prior to him jumping to the elite league, and it lines up pretty well with other elite players that made the jump to that level.

“It’s a valid question and whether he gets put into those [offensive] situations this year is what we’re excited about with his [Finnish] team moving forward.”

While Vaakenainen sounded surprised the Bruins selected him after only a single meeting at the NHL scouting combine, Sweeney said that Boston’s head scout in Finland has enough history with the family to vouch for the kid’s makeup.

So while it’s far from a sexy pick and the Bruins could have tried to hit a home run with an 18th overall selection in a mediocre draft, the B’s will also get some time before anybody is ready to label the Finnish blueliner a boom or a bust.

The rest of the draft night didn’t add up to much for the B’s, however. They made the selection of Vaakenainen after strongly considering dropping down in the first round, and in doing so lost one of the better trade chips in the form of their 2017 first round pick. There were discussions with Minnesota about Marco Scandella and a few trade feelers to other clubs that might listen on a D-man, but the Bruins now have to hit the reset button on trade discussions for left-shot defensemen or top-6 left wings.

Perhaps Scandella’s $4 million per season salary was an issue for the Bruins, or maybe the Bruins didn’t want to give up their first round pick for a 27-year-old D-man coming off a so-so season with the Wild. Either way, there wasn’t enough momentum for the Bruins to get a trade done with a bevy of defensemen rumored to be available if the offer is good enough.

“I was on the record saying that we’d be offering our first round pick for target-specific players, and we did do that,” said Sweeney. “I don’t blame teams for not necessarily wanting to go through with it, so we went ahead with a player we wanted with our own pick. We continue to build what we think is a good group of guys moving forward.

“There are a couple of areas we’d like to address and get better. We’re trying to help our team currently. Certainly Brandon [Carlo] jumped into our lineup and we hope Charlie [McAvoy] will carry over what he did, and we have other players that will push. We have six returning defensemen we feel good about and we’ll certainly push from underneath, but it’s an area we’ll continue to address. We have some forwards that we also hope will come online, but we’ll never stop exploring and trying to improve our club.”

So let’s sum it all up after a week of additions and subtractions from the Original Six organization: The Bruins added a decidedly vanilla defenseman in the first round of the NHL Draft that might be a simple stay-at-home guy, and they weren’t able to muster any kind of deals for a D-man or winger to enhance the NHL roster. On the other hand, they didn’t give up much over the week as well and they didn’t do much at all to harm a solid roster that looked like they were finally on the right track pushing into the playoffs last season.

The Bruins could be in store for an action-packed Day Two of the draft on Saturday full of promising prospects and bountiful trades, but it sure feels like the 2017 NHL Draft in Chicago isn’t going to be a very memorable one for the Black and Gold.