Nats headed to St. Louis for NLDS

Beanballs,Sports,Brian McNally

The Nationals can gas up that plane and head west. They will face the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday at 3:07 p.m. in Game 1 of a National League Division Series.

The Cardinals defeated the Atlanta Braves on Friday evening 6-3 in a one-game playoff at Turner Field. They received 5 2/3 innings from starting pitcher Kyle Lohse and took advantage of three errors by one of the sport’s best defensive teams. But not without some serious controversy.

In the bottom of the eighth inning, Atlanta’s Andrelton Simmons hit a pop fly into shallow left field. But what looked like an easy play for St. Louis shortstop Peter Kozma instead dropped in when he ceded the play to a shocked left fielder Matt Holliday. Suddenly the Braves had the bases loaded and one out.

But not so fast. Left field umpire Sam Holbrook at the last instant called the infield fly rule. Normally used to prevent an infielder from dropping a routine pop up and starting double plays when the runners head back to their base, this time it was called on a ball hit well into the outfield. The Braves runners, Dan Uggla and David Ross, were both halfway towards their next base and advanced immediately to second and third upon the ball falling in.

Manager Fredi Gonzalez argued vehemently to no avail and eventually wanted the game played under official protest. The crowd at Turner Field turned ugly with debris being thrown onto the field as players and umpires headed towards the dugouts for safety. It took almost 20 minutes to calm the crowd and remove the garbage before play resumed.

Pinch hitter Brian McCann drew a two-out walk, but Michael Bourn struck out swinging against Cardinals closer Jason Motte. With two runners on base and the tying run at the plate in the ninth against Motte, Dan Uggla grounded out to second to end it.

Assuming the protest is denied by Major League Baseball, as expected, the Nats will face the Cardinals with Games 1 and 2 on Sunday and Monday (4:37 p.m.). Game 3 is on Wednesday and the final two games of the series, if necessary, would be in Washington, too. The Nats were 4-3 against St. Louis in 2012, but were thumped in two of three games in late September at Busch Stadium and allowed 26 runs in that series. Lefty Gio Gonzalez will start Game 1 for Washington.

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