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The St. Louis Cardinals and the Atlanta Braves played out a series-worth of stories and situations in one brutal, hectic Wild Card game.
The Wild Card game, as it turns out, is a lot like the rest of the postseason, only moreso. It's postseason concentrate, and all of us just drank some right out of the carton by accident. Postseason series have always been susceptible to domination by a single convergence of miscues and poorly placed cues, but with one game in which to dramatize everything going on with the St. Louis Cardinals and the Atlanta Braves it seemed more like an overabundance of potential stories fighting each other for space.
2000 years from now anthropologists, digging through piles of refuse and broken containers as is their wont, will remember it as the game in which Chipper Jones—we believe they called him "The Wild Card"—reacted to an obscure burial ritual called the "infield fly" by throwing baseballs into the stands. And Friday, even, it felt a little like that, with Chipper's last game competing and interacting with the Braves' awful defense, and the Cardinals' awful bullpen, and finally the infield fly controversy. Turner Field might still be chanting IN-FIELD-FLY this morning if it hadn't been roused from its garbage-throwing by the need to applaud, once more, one of the five best third basemen ever.
By the time we got to the part with the rulebook and Jason Motte looking uneasy in relief it had been exciting, but it was also exhausting. The raised stakes made these spooky baseball interactions more fun, for the most part. But things felt overheated—turned up this high we got less of the color of Chipper Jones's finale and the Braves' fielding errors and more of the fundamental capriciousness of a win-or-go-home format.
So Chipper Jones seemed almost pushed off the stage, and the infield fly thing wasn't a that's-baseball-for-you interlude in a larger series but cause for a 20-minute delay while people rushed to finish their beers so that they could be used as $9 projectiles.
None of which is to say that I'm entirely against the new Wild Card. But it's jarring to move back to the NLDS, and the opportunity to lose a game in peace once or twice, after watching it. The Wild Card is brutish; it turns 25-man rosters and starting pitchers into blunt instruments. Now, having beaten the Braves to death under the monolith, the Cardinals are being asked to grow their moustachios back and select a dueling pistol with which to defend their honor against the Nationals.
Sunday afternoon in St. Louis we'll see the real postseason. It might be a little tedious after what we just saw, to watch Gio Gonzalez pitch and know that he can't possibly eliminate the Cardinals on the first day. But that sounds good to me, right about now.