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Disputed call nearly causes riot at wild-card game

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Disputed call nearly causes riot at wild-card game

ATLANTA (AP) Andrelton Simmons lifted a pop fly into shallow left field. Not a hard-hit ball, by any means, but at least 50 feet beyond the infield.

St. Louis shortstop Pete Kozma drifted back, throwing up his hand in that universal baseball gesture, ``I've got it.'' Only one problem. Right before the ball came down, the rookie veered out of the way, apparently thinking left fielder Matt Holliday was going to take it.

The ball dropped harmlessly in the grass. The crowd roared, thinking the Atlanta Braves had loaded the bases with one out. Only one problem. Standing nearby, umpire Sam Holbrook had thrown up his right arm, signaling Simmons was out.

This grab was made by the infield fly rule.

The first wild-card playoff game in baseball history turned out to be just plain wild Friday, thanks to a complicated rule that has long been part of baseball, even if many people - even hard-core fans - don't know exactly what it is. The disputed call led to a protest by the Braves - which was quickly denied - and an ugly display as fans littered the field with debris, causing a 19-minute delay.

That only delayed the inevitable for the Braves. The Cardinals moved on to the divisional series against Washington with a 6-3 victory in baseball's new one-game, winner-take-all playoff round.

``You never want to see something get violent like that,'' said Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, who played his final game. ``But when you've got (what is essentially) a Game 7 and your whole season is on the line ... things like that are going to happen.''

What, exactly, did happen?

The infield fly rule gives umpires the discretion to call an automatic out on a popup with more than one runner on base, largely to prevent the team in the field from intentionally letting the ball drop so they can get an extra out, since the runners can't drift too far away from the bag for fear of getting doubled off after the catch.

``The infield fly rule is to protect the runners, really,'' Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez said.

This time, it cost the Braves.

At issue was whether Kozma had established his position to make the catch, and whether it should have been made under any circumstances on a popup that far beyond the infield.

``I thought we have a legit beef,'' Gonzalez said.

Joe Torre, who played and managed for both the Braves and the Cardinals, was on hand as the executive vice president of baseball operations. He turned down the protest, ruling it was a judgment call by the umpires.

``Not that you can't protest,'' Torre said. ``But you can't uphold a protest based on that.''

Besides, both Torre and Holbrook thought it was the right call.

``It's all judged on what the fielder does,'' said the umpire, who was stationed down the left-field line as part of the expanded six-man crew that is used in the playoffs. ``Once that fielder establishes himself and he has ordinary effort on the ball, that's when the call is made. So it wouldn't matter whether it was from third base or on the line out there. It's all based on what the fielder does. That's what I went on, and that's what I read.''

The Braves saw the play differently, of course.

``I thought the shortstop had to go way out there to make a play on that fly ball, and I think we've got to take into account the crowd - 50,000 people yelling - and I thought there was some miscommunication between Holliday and Kozma,'' Gonzalez said. ``I thought we were going to catch a break there.''

No one was pleased about the way the crowd reacted after the call. Braves president John Schuerholz issued an apology to Major League Baseball and the Cardinals, blaming a small group of fans who ``acted in a manner that was uncharacteristic and unacceptable.''

As the Cardinals celebrated another playoff triumph in the clubhouse, someone screamed, ``Infield fly!''

``I understand that the Braves are upset by what happened,'' manager Mike Matheny said. But, he added, ``The umpires were out there. It was the right call.''

Besides, the umpires had nothing to do with Atlanta's three throwing errors, which allowed the Cardinals to score four unearned runs. Without the defensive miscues by the NL's top fielding team, that call in the eighth would have been an afterthought, not one that nearly caused a riot.

``Ultimately, when we look back on this loss, we need to look at ourselves in the mirror,'' said Jones, whose errant throw in the fourth led to three runs for the Cardinals. ``Three errors cost us the ballgame, mine probably being the biggest. Did (the infield fly rule) cost us one out? Did it cost us one run, possibly more? Yes. But I'm not willing to sit here and say that call cost us the ballgame.''

On Twitter, outfielder Jason Heyward said: ``When you don't have anything positive to say it's best to not speak,'' then thanked Braves fans for their support this season.

Braves starting pitcher Kris Medlen tweeted: ``Can't point fingers at anyone but ourselves. Didn't bring our A game as a team and the cards capitalized.''

The play will certainly lead to a clamor for expanded use of instant replay to deal with an epidemic of disputed postseason calls in recent years - especially with the new one-and-done format.

If nothing else, there were plenty of comparisons to the NFL's much-maligned replacement refs.

``This was an exciting game,'' Torre said. ``I'm sorry about the controversy. It's certainly not something we ever plan on.''

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—All-Redskins mock, fast-fading interest in Dez

Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—All-Redskins mock, fast-fading interest in Dez

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, April 21, five days before the 2018 NFL draft.  

The Redskins week that was

A look at some of the most popular posts and hottest topics of the week on Real Redskins and NBC Sports Washington

Should the Redskins pursue Dez Bryant? This topic was one like a meteor, very hot for a short period of time before it quickly faded out. It started to heat up as soon as the Cowboys cut Dez (about a month too late) and when it was reported that he wanted to play against Dallas twice a year it really picked up steam. But then people started to actually think and figured out that signing Bryant didn’t make much sense for the Redskins. Add to that the reports that the Redskins had no interest and would not look into signing Dez in the future and the Redskins fans quickly lost enthusiasm for the topic.

Seven-round Redskins mock draft—I think that most Redskins fans would be happy with this mock. Well, I’ll say some Redskins fans, most is a pretty strong word in this case. 

Is the draft pool deep enough for the Redskins to trade back? There is plenty of talk about the Redskins trading down in the first round to recoup the third-round pick they gave up in the Alex Smith trade. But they need to be careful. Many consider the draft to be top heavy and they may lose their chance to pick up an impact player if they trade back too far. The question then becomes one of quality vs. quantity. 

Three questions as offseason workouts get underway—There will be plenty more questions that we can ask about this team. But we don’t really know what to ask before the draft, particularly when it comes to the defensive line and running back. One the personnel settle into place we will know what we don’t know. 

Tweet of the week

On Chris Cooley’s thought that the Redskins might try to trade back and get Da’Ron Payne in the draft and the use the assets obtained to move up to get Derrius Guice. 

This is related to the questions about trading back. On paper it looks like a good idea, assuming the Redskins want Payne. We’re pretty sure they would like to have Guice but we haven’t heard as much about the Alabama defensive lineman. 

I had many reply that Guice won’t be there in the second round. It’s possible, perhaps even likely, but you just don’t know. There was zero chance that Jonathan Allen would be there at No. 17 last year, right? 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCS.

Timeline  

Days until:

—OTAs start (5/22) 31
—Training camp starts (7/26) 96
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 141

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Game 5 Capitals vs. Blue Jackets Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

Game 5 Capitals vs. Blue Jackets Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

Alex Ovechkin said the Caps would return to Washington with a tied series. The Caps captain is a man of his word as the Caps won both Game 3 and Game 4 to even up the series at two games apiece.

John Tortorella had no answers after seeing his Columbus Blue Jackets fall in Game 4, but he will have to figure things out quickly as the series shifts back to Washington for a pivotal Game 5.

The Caps return home with two straight wins and all the momentum. There's just one problem: No one seemingly can win at home.

What: Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, Round 1, Game 5

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

When: 3:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 5 will be broadcast on NBC.

Live Stream: You can watch Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 5 on NBC Sports' live stream page.

WHEN IS THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME?

The Capitals take on the Blue Jackets in Game 5 on Saturday, April 21 at 3:00 p.m. ET in Washington. The series is tied 2-2.

WHAT CHANNEL IS THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME ON?

Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 5 will be broadcast on NBC. Coverage kicks off on NBC Sports Washington with Capitals FaceOff at 2:00 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 2:30 p.m. Tune back to NBC Sports Washington after the game for Caps Extra and Caps Overtime at 6:00 p.m. for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

2:00 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
2:30 p.m. — Caps GameTime
3:00 p.m. — Capitals vs. Blue Jackets on NBC
5:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
6:00 p.m. — Caps Overtime

WHERE CAN I STREAM THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME?

Capitals-Blue Jackets Game 5 is available to stream live here through the NBC Sports live stream page.

WHAT ARE THE PROJECTED LINES FOR THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME?

Here are the Caps' projected lines:

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Chandler Stephenson - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Brett Connolly- Lars Eller - Devante Smith-Pelly
Jakub Vrana -  Jay Beagle - Alex Chiasson

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Christian Djoos

Braden Holtby with Philipp Grubauer as backup.

Scratches: Travis Boyd, Andre Burakovsky (upper-body), Shane Gerisch, Madison Bowey, Jakub Jerabek

CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.

SEE THE CAPITALS VS. BLUE JACKETS FULL SERIES SCHEDULE HERE

CAPITALS SCHEDULE