By PAUL NEWBERRY, Associated Press
ATLANTA (AP) — The NFL replacement refs are not there to kick around anymore.
Not to worry.
A familiar target has emerged.
Instead of guys wearing stripes, it's the men in blue.
Major League Baseball found itself embroiled in another postseason maelstrom over umpires — and renewed calls for increased use of instant replay — after a disputed infield fly call led to mayhem in the stands in the one-game, winner-take-all playoff in Atlanta.
The St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Braves 6-3 on Friday, advancing to the division series against the Washington Nationals. But this landmark game — the debut of the wild-card playoff under baseball's expanded postseason format — will long be remembered for a ruling by Sam Holbrook in the eighth inning.
Andrelton Simmons hit a pop fly that dropped safely in left field after a mix-up between two fielders, either able to have caught the ball easily. Holbrook ruled the batter out anyway under the infield fly rule. The fans at Turner Field went nuts, littering the field with beers cups, buckets of popcorn and anything else they could get their hands on, leading to a scary, 19-minute delay.
Almost as quickly as the field was covered in trash, there were immediate comparisons to the NFL's referee debacle. Someone at Turner Field even held up what was apparently a hastily crafted sign: "Replacement Umps??"
Former Braves outfielder Dale Murphy, who won two MVP awards in the 1980s, weighed in on Twitter.
He wasn't alone.
"Oh my," Murphy wrote. "Not believing this. Calls an infield fly when the ball is almost on the ground?"
"One game elimination and a call like that is made? Inexcusable," Oakland Athletics pitcher Brandon McCarthy said.
"Wow. Infield fly on a 200 footer," added Arizona pitcher Daniel Hudson.
Even out in San Francisco, where the Giants host Cincinnati in Game 1 of the NL's other division series on Saturday, the call in Atlanta had everyone's attention.
"I didn't know it was an infield fly," reliever Jeremy Affeldt said. "I don't even know how an infield fly is an infield fly. I don't know where the line's drawn."
Maybe that's even an issue for some folks at MLB.
Baseball's official Twitter site had a sentence in its profile that said "We don't understand the infield fly rule, either." Sure, it was just somebody's attempt at humor, but that sentence was quietly zapped from the site as the trash was flying in Atlanta.
Indeed, this is no laughing matter, especially for the Braves.
Their season is over.
"This was an exciting game," said Joe Torre, who played and managed for both the Braves and Cardinals and now serves as MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations. "I'm sorry about the controversy. It's certainly not something we ever plan on."
Maybe they should.
This certainly wasn't the first time the umps have been at the center of a call that might've gone a different way with instant replay — though, in this case, Holbrook said he was "absolutely" sure he made the right ruling even after looking at the video.
From Doug Eddings' noncall on an apparent strike three by the Los Angeles Angels in the 2005 AL championship series to Tim McClelland blatantly missing a clear double play by those same Angels in the 2009 ALCS to Ron Kulpa blowing a tag on a Cardinals runner in last year's World Series, this has become a rite of October.
Even the Braves had been through this before. During their last playoff appearance two years ago, San Francisco's Buster Posey was called safe on a steal of second when everyone in the stadium knew he had been tagged by Atlanta's Brooks Conrad. Everyone, except the one guy who mattered — umpire Paul Emmel. Posey wound up scoring the only run of the game, and the Giants went on to take the divisional series.
"I guess it's a good thing we don't have instant replay right now," Posey conceded at the time.
The question that was as relevant then as it is today: Why not?
After years of resistance by Commissioner Bud Selig and his predecessors, baseball conceded to limited use of instant replay late in the 2008 season, to deal with whether a home run was fair or foul, the ball actually cleared the wall, or there was fan interference. Plenty of people are saying it's time to go to the monitor a lot more often.