Braves' season dies in a sea of controversy

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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.

Instant Replay: Sharks allow six to Stars, losing streak now at five

Instant Replay: Sharks allow six to Stars, losing streak now at five

BOX SCORE

DALLAS – Entering the game with their longest regulation losing streak of the season, and playing against what should have been a tired opponent that is already out of playoff contention, the Sharks were obliterated by the Stars on Friday at American Airlines Center, 6-1.
 
From the drop of the puck, the Sharks looked like they had no interest in competing against a Dallas team that had played in Chicago on Thursday night, and had already beaten San Jose earlier in the week.

The loss stretched the Sharks’ losing streak to five, and it is the longest in more than six years when they dropped six in a row from Jan. 3-13, 2011. After enjoying a nine-point lead on the rest of the Pacific Division on March 14, the Ducks can tie San Jose in points with a win over Winnipeg later on Friday.
 
Adam Cracknell, who paced the Dallas offense with a hat trick, opened the scoring with his first of three goals. He drove the puck to the net while fighting off Brenden Dillon, and Micheal Haley inadvertently kicked the loose puck through Aaron Dell at 8:30 of the first period.
 
Prior to that score, it took the Sharks more than seven minutes to register their first shot.
 
San Jose escaped down just 1-0 at the first intermission, but it quickly got worse. Brett Ritchie was left open by Dillon and whipped in a pass from Tyler Seguin at 1:58, and then Dallas’ third goal really set off coach Pete DeBoer.
 
Joe Pavelski lost a defensive zone draw, and Brent Burns inexplicably vacated the front of the net, where Jamie Benn was wide open. Benn had all kinds of time to freeze Aaron Dell and slip through his 25th goal at 5:19.
 
DeBoer called timeout at that point, and was as visibly upset at his bench as he has been in his two seasons as head coach, barking away at the stunned Sharks skaters.
 
It didn’t help. Cracknell made it 4-0 off of a rush less than two minutes after the timeout, and although Joe Thornton got one back on the power play, the Stars scored two more times in the third period. 
 
Dell misplayed a puck on a Sharks power play, sliding it right to Cracknell for a breakaway in which he finished off a hat trick at 4:59. Just 21 seconds later, John Klingberg converted a two-on-one with Jason Spezza – who had three assists on the night – to make it a 6-1 Dallas lead.
 
The five-game winless streak is their worst since they went 0-6-1 from Dec. 1-12 last season.
 
San Jose has just five goals in its last five games.
 
The Sharks had Jannik Hansen back for the game, after the recent addition had missed the last two games with a head injury. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, though, was not able to finish the game, for reasons that were not immediately clear.
 
Special teams 
 
Thornton’s goal was his first on the power play all season, as the Sharks went 1-for-2. Dallas was 0-for-2.
 
Cracknell’s shorthanded goal was the fourth the Sharks have allowed this season.
 
In goal
 
Dell suffered his worst game of the season, and his NHL career, allowing six goals on 29 shots. He played all three games against Dallas, stopping 48 of 50 shots in the first two.
 
Kari Lehtonen, who shut out the Sharks with 30 saves on Monday in a 1-0 win, made 20 saves on Friday. He has played in 10 straight games.
 
Lineup
 
Timo Meier came out of the lineup for Hansen, while Danny O’Regan was reassigned to the Barracuda earlier in the day.
 
Burns snapped out of his seven-game scoreless streak with an assist on Thornton’s goal, but still has no goals in his last 15 games.
 
Dallas’ Tyler Seguin was skating in his 500th career NHL game.
 
Up next
 
The Sharks conclude their road trip Saturday in Nashville, their only appearance there in the regular season. In the first two games of the season series in San Jose, the Sharks won on Oct. 29, 4-1, but dropped a 3-1 decision on March 11.

A's spring training Day 39: Melvin applauds team's hitting approach

A's spring training Day 39: Melvin applauds team's hitting approach

MESA, Ariz. — Gaudy run totals in spring training usually don’t mean a whole lot once the regular season hits.

For A’s manager Bob Melvin, it’s the manner in which the A’s are going about things offensively that’s encouraging to him.

Oakland jumped on another opponent early, scoring five runs in the first Friday and rolling to an 8-2 victory over the Chicago White Sox. Granted, Chicago scratched starter Carlos Rodon in the morning and had to piece the game together with its bullpen.

But that only takes so much luster off the way the A’s are going about their business right now. They’ve won four in a row, and over their past five games they’ve racked up 71 hits and are averaging more than eight runs per contest in that span.

“The good thing is it’s contagious throughout the lineup,” Melvin said. “In the first inning alone we had four situational at-bats and four situational plusses. That’s something Bushy (hitting coach Darren Bush) really has been stressing all spring. We’ve had a lot of games where we just pass it on to the next guy, and if we’re gonna be successful this year, that’s what we’re gonna have to do is get contributions throughout the lineup.”

It’s interesting to watch how Melvin utilizes Matt Joyce. Early on he said he prefers the right fielder batting third when he’s in the lineup. But Joyce also is drawing starts at leadoff, as he did Friday, and the No. 2 spot. Increasing on-base percentage is a big need for the A’s, and Joyce entered Friday tied for the Cactus league lead with 10 walks.

He singled to spark a five-run first that included RBI singles from Trevor Plouffe, Yonder Alonso, Mark Canha and Chris Parmelee.

ELITE COMPANY: Melvin threw out some big-time names when asked who young third baseman Matt Chapman reminds him of.

One was Melvin’s former Giants teammate, Matt Williams, a five-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glover.

“The defense, Matty was as good as anybody I've seen over at third base,” Melvin said. “The power, there are a lot of similarities. That’s probably the best comp I could think of.”

Melvin also mentioned current Rockies star third baseman Nolan Arenado, who has won four consecutive Gold Gloves and posted back-to-back 40-homer seasons.

Not a bad couple of guys to be compared to.

“That’s exciting,” Chapman said. “It’s always nice to have people speak well of you. Those are two guys that I’m aware of how good they are.”

NOTEWORTHY: It was another start Friday where Kendall Graveman seemed to be on auto pilot, retiring hitters with ease and holding the White Sox to one run over seven innings. All the more impressive was that A’s hitters put together some very long half-innings, where Graveman had to make sure he stayed loose.

He simply took it as a good challenge to prepare for all those cold night games at the Coliseum. Named the A’s Opening Night starter just a day earlier, Graveman also used this start to focus on his cutter, being that his sinker has been locked in.

“It was good to have some innings where you have to sit for a while and go back out there,” Graveman said.

His ERA is 2.29 through five starts. He has one more tune-up before the April 3 opener against the Los Angeles Angels.

HEALTH UPDATES: Outfielder Jaff Decker continues to progress from his oblique injury. Now the key is whether he can return to games in time to make a final push for the 25-man roster. Alejandro De Aza appears to be his biggest competition to be the fifth outfielder, if the A’s end up carrying five.

“It just depends on when he gets in a game,” Melvin said of Decker. “I mean, he’s done enough obviously to make a big impression on us. But whether or not he’s even healthy enough at the end, we’ll see.”

ODDS AND ENDS: Ryon Healy swatted his fifth homer of the spring, a two-run shot, in the second inning. Entering Friday evening, Healy was tied for the major league lead in RBI (16) with Boston’s Pablo Sandoval. … Plouffe is on a recent tear and has lifted his average to .395. … Parmelee, a non-roster outfielder, is impressing in under-the-radar fashion. The left-handed hitter is batting .367. … Melvin is having a heck of a time getting switch hitter Jed Lowrie at-bats from the right side. He purposely switched things up to have Lowrie face the lefty Rodon on Friday, only to have Rodon get scratched. The A’s face lefties each of the next two days, and Melvin also mentioned sending Lowrie over to face minor league lefties if need be.