ATLANTA What had been a magical year for Chipper Jones and the Braves reverted to postseason heartache Friday. Kris Medlen, the pitcher who couldn't lose, lost. And to cap Atlanta's disappointing night, a Braves rally in the eighth inning was thwarted by a questionable infield-fly ruling.
The Braves made three errors, none more costly than Jones' errant throw in the three-run fourth inning of 6-3 loss to St. Louis in a National League wild-card game before an overflow crowd at Turner Field.
The Cardinals advanced to a division series against Washington that starts Sunday, while the Braves were eliminated from the playoffs and left to stew about making so many mistakes in their biggest game of the year. And to wonder what might have been if not for that umpire's call in the eighth.
"I'm not willing to say that call cost us the ballgame," said Jones, who went 1 for 5 with an infield single in the ninth inning in the last game of his storied career. "Our three errors cost us the ballgame, mine being the biggest."
The Braves trailed 6-3 and had runners at first and second with one out in the eighth inning when Andrelton Simmons hit a pop fly to left field. Shortstop Pete Kozma ran out for it but backed off at the last second.
The ball fell between Kozma and left fielder Matt Holliday, and an announced crowd of 52,631 roared, assuming the bases would be full with one out and Brian McCann on deck to pinch-hit.
McCann has a .339 career average and nine grand slams in 109 at-bats with the bases loaded.
But the bases wouldn't be loaded, because left-field umpire Sam Holbrook called Simmons out on an infield-fly ruling, an unusual call for a ball that landed about 50 feet past the edge of the infield dirt.
"I was stunned," Simmons said. "I couldn't understand the call. I've seen it made shallow, but not that deep (in the outfield), pretty much in left field. I don't think anybody has seen that one before."
Manager Fredi Gonzalez argued vehemently with umpires near third base, and fans littered the field with hundreds of plastic bottles and other garbage, causing a 19-minute delay, during which Gonzalez filed an official protest.
"I thought the shortstop had to go way out there to make a play," Gonzalez said.
Infield-fly rulings are not reviewable under instant-replay rules, and Joe Torre, Major League Baseball's vice president of baseball operations, upheld the ruling.
Normally the protest would be in written form and decided in 24 hours, but since it was a one-game playoff, Torre made the call right away.
Cardinals reliever Jason Motte replaced Mitchell Boggs during the delay and walked McCann to load the bases before striking out Michael Bourn to end the inning.
It was the 16th loss in the past 21 home postseason games for the Braves. They have lost their past six postseason series, and now they've lost the first single-game wild-card playoff.
Medlen was charged with five runs (three earned) in 6 1/3 innings as the Cardinals became the first team to beat the Braves in Medlen's past 24 starts. Not that it was his fault he gave up three hits and no walks, two of three Cardinals runs in the fourth inning were unearned, and the Braves had a potential tying run erased by Simmons' base-running mistake in the bottom of the fourth.
The shoddy fielding by the Braves belies the fact that the team had the fewest errors (86) and best fielding percentage in the National League during the regular season.