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Cards Come From Behind Again to Beat Cubs 4-2 for Sixteenth Straight Win and Fourth Straight Sweep

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Explanation of Wild Confusing Play at the End and Playoff Scenarios

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Chicago Cubs David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

In the first two innings of the ballgame, both clubs had runners but couldn’t bring them in. In the top of the first, Tommy Edman grounded a 2-1 cutter from right-hander Keegan Thompson to David Bote at 2nd base, but he booted it for an error. Thompson got out of the inning by striking out the rest of the side. With 1 out in the bottom half, Frank Schwindel lined a high hanging slider from Jake Woodford to center for a base hit, and advanced to 2nd on a deflected line drive base hit from Willson Contreras that almost took Woodford’s head off. But Matt Duffy stranded the runners with a grounder to Arendao at 3rd, who stepped on the bag to end the inning.

Dylan Carlson led off the top of the 2nd, by tapping a low-and-away cutter to the shortstop area. The third baseman Duffy, who was playing deep in that area in the shift, charged and fired to first, but Carlson beat out the throw for a base hit. Again, Thompson set the Cards down in order with two more strikeouts. For the final out, Matt Duffy made a nice diving stop and bounced throw to 1st to deprive Andrew Knizner of a double down the line.

In the bottom of the 2nd, former Cards farmhand Nick Martini lined a down-the-middle fastball to center for a leadoff base hit, but after Sergio Alcantara forced him at 2nd and David Bote was hit by a pitch (barely), the pitcher Thompson tapped the ball back to the mound for an inning-ending 1-4-3 double play. Thompson failed to get the bunt down on the first pitch and was swinging away for some reason after that.

The Cards got on the board with two out in the top of the 3rd, when Paul Goldschmidt cracked a 1-1 low-and-in fastball 464 feet to dead center for a solo shot to give the Cards a 1-0 lead. According to Al Yellon of Bleed Cubbie Blue, this was the 2nd longest homer hit in Wrigley field all year.

The Cards had a shot to get some more runs after Tyler O’Neill hit a hanging curveball for a base hit to left and Nolan Arenado walked on 5 pitches, but Carlson struck out looking at a nasty low-and-away back door 1-2 cutter to end the frame. The Cubs couldn’t capitalize on the leadoff walk of another former Cardinal farmhand, Rafael Ortega, in the bottom of the 3rd, as Frank Schwindel lined to center and Ian Happ grounded a low curve into your basic 3-5 double play. The Cards were lined up in the shift. Happ hit the ball hard on the ground towards the line, but Goldy made a nice grab, spun and fired to the 2nd base bag, where Arenado was waiting to tag the sliding Ortega out.

By this point, Cubs starter Keegan Thompson had only thrown 56 pitches and only made one real mistake, if you can call it that, and had struck out seven Cardinal batters. But the Cubs decided to piggyback Thompson with righty Adbert Alzolay starting in the top of the 4th. Thompson was a starter in his minor league career, and had started in his last four appearances with the Cubs, but has never really pitched much longer than 2 innings. After Alzolay retired the Cards in order on 9 pitches, the Cubs would get to Woodford in the bottom half. Willson Contreras worked a leadoff 3-2 walk, and moved to 2nd on Duffy’s grounded single through the right side. After Martini lined to short, Alcantara sliced a 1-0 hanging slider just inside the left field line that bounced over the sidewall for a ground rule double. Contreras scored to tie the game 1-1 and Duffy was awarded 3rd base. Bote then flied an elevated sinker deep enough to right to score Duffy on the Sac Fly to give the Cubs a 2-1 lead.

Alzolay retired the Cards in order in the top of the 5th. Ortega led off the bottom half by grounding a hanging curve to the third base area vacated by the shift for a base hit, but Woodford settled down the retire the rest of the Cubs in order on 8 pitches. Two of the outs were infield popups. For the last one, Contreras hit a lazy fly to the no-man’s area between Edman at 2nd and Carlson in right. Edman drifted back for the ball and looked like he called for it, but it soon became apparent that it would drop out of his reach. Carlson was jogging in at first, but then turned on the jets and made a sliding catch to end the inning.

The Cards again failed to capitalize on two baserunners in the top of the 6th. Tyler O’Neill poked a sinker to where the 2nd baseman would normally be, but the Cubs defense was shifted and it went through for a leadoff base hit. With the count 2-2 on Arenado, O’Neill stole 2nd base. The throw from Contreras was just a bit wide of Bote’s glove towards the right side of the bag and it sailed into center field. O’Neill slid in safely, and when he stood up on the bag, his back was to the ball. Bote was on his knees trying to get up, but lost his balance and blatantly grabbed O’Neill, taking him to the ground with him.

That was garden variety obstruction. Obstruction is defined in the Definitions section of the Official Rules to be “the act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner.” It doesn’t have to be on purpose, and Bote’s tackle of O’Neill surely qualifies as an impediment. The ball had already sailed into centerfield and Bote was trying to get up, his opportunity to field the ball having passed. The comment to Rule 6.01(h) specifically says that “[a]fter a fielder has made an attempt to field a ball and missed, he can no longer be in the act of fielding the ball.” Yet no obstruction was called, and O’Neill was not awarded third base. This was more blatant than the walkoff obstruction that ended Game 3 of the 2013 World Series. Mike Shildt came out to get an explanation and casually walked away. The only thing I can come up with is that the umpire concluded that O’Neill would not have made it to 3rd base even if there was no obstruction. The problem with this is that obstruction is supposed to be called when it happens and it never was called. Alas, obstruction is not a reviewable play. As it turned out, Arenado struck out on the 3-2 pitch. Carlson worked a 3-2 walk, and Bader flied a first-pitch hanging slider deep to the track in center that allowed both runners to advance. But DeJong bounced a sinker to 2nd to end the inning.

Woodford almost walked Duffy on four straight to start the bottom of the 6th, but the umpire gave him the 3-0 fastball that was just off the plate, and Duffy would end up flying out to the track in center on a 3-2 pitch. Shildt then brought in Andrew Miller, who struck Martini out, and got Alcantara to ground to short to end the inning.

The Cards would get another two baserunners in the top of the 7th with nothing to show for it, and it looked like the streak might end. With 2 out, Edman lined an outside fastball to center for a base hit and moved to 2nd when new sidewinding righty Scott Efross hit Goldschmidt on the left thigh with a 3-1 pitch. O’Neill slowly rolled a low-and-away 2-1 slider to short to end the frame. Kodi Whitley came on in relief in the bottom of the 7th, and although he allowed singles to both Bote and Ortega, he struck out the other 3 Cub batters to end the inning.

Righty Rowan Wick, yet another former Cardinal farmhand, came out to pitch the top of the 8th for the Cubs. He retired both Arenado and Carlson, but Harrison Bader launched an 0-1 hanging slider onto Waveland Avenue over the left-center field stands for a solo shot to tie the game 2-2.

After Whitley got Contreras to swing late at a high hard 97 mph four-seamer for his fourth strikeout of the afternoon, Mike Shildt made a double switch. Genesis Cabrera came in to pitch in the #5 spot, Lars Nootbaar came in to play right field in the #9 spot, and Carlson exited the game. Cabrera would issue a 2-out, 3-2 walk to Trayce Thompson (who pinch hit for Martini), but got Alcantara to tap a 92 mph change back to the mound to end the inning.

For the top of the 9th, Thompson stayed in the game in left in place of Martini, and righty Cody Heuer came out to pitch for the Cubs. Heuer started things off by walking Andrew Knizner on 4 straight pitches. With the Cubs lined up in the shift, Nootbaar bunted a first-pitch slider to the left side of the infield. The third baseman Duffy charged, barehanded the ball and made an off-balance throw to first, but Noot beat it out for a bae hit to move Knizner to 2nd.

Tommy Edman sacrificed the runners to 2nd and 3rd, and the Cubs decided to walk Goldschmidt intentionally to load the bases for O’Neill. Heuer bounced a first pitch slider, but Contreras was able to backhand it. He did it again on the 2nd pitch, but this time Contreras couldn’t stop it and the ball went to the backstop for a wild pitch to score Knizner and give the Cards a 3-2 lead.

With runners at 2nd and 3rd again, and the infield in, O’Neill tapped a low 3-2 change back to the mound. Heuer shifted his weight back to his right from his follow-through, took his eye off of the ball and dropped it. Nootbaar was running on contact and scored to give the Cards a 4-2 lead. Heuer got the ball and fired to first, just barely getting O’Neill.

With 2 out, Arenado was intentionally walked to put runners at the corners. Jose Rondon pinch hit for Cabera and struck out to end the inning.

Giovanny Gallegos came out to try for the save. He would get to 3-2 counts on each of the first 3 batters. After Bote struck out failing to check his swing, Austin Romine pinch hit for the pitcher Heuer and walked and Ortega also walked. Gio couldn’t locate his slider to make it an appealing pitch at which to offer. At this point, all hell broke loose, and just about everybody, including the umpires players on both clubs, and even the announcers either never knew the mechanics of the infield fly rule or forgot them.

Schwindel popped a 1-0 hanging slider to the 3rd base area towards the line. Arenado was in foul territory prepared to field the ball, but he slipped on the grass and fell to the ground, with the ball dropping in fair territory under the influence of the wind. The 3rd base umpire waited until Arenado slipped to raise his hand and call the infield fly rule. But apparently nobody knew this, not Danny Mac, not the Cubs players and not the Cardinal fielders.

According to the definitions section of the Official Rules an infield fly is “a fair fly ball (not including a line drive or an attempted bunt) which can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort, when first and second, or first, second and third bases are occupied, before two are out.” Further, when it seems apparent that a batted ball will be an Infield Fly the umpire is supposed to immediately declare “Infield Fly” for the benefit of the runners. If the ball is near the baselines, “the umpire shall declare ‘Infield Fly, if fair.’” The third base umpire waited way too late to do this.

Under Rule 5.09(a)(5), the batter is out at the moment the Infield Fly is declared. That was the second out. Because it was an Infield Fly, the batter still would have been out even if Arenado had not slipped and instead had let the ball drop to the ground on purpose. That proviso is contained in both the definition of Infield Fly in the Definitions section and in an approved ruling to Rule 5.09(a)(12). The proviso is contained in an approved ruling to Rule 5.09(a)(12) because that particular rule allows a fielder to let a bunt or a line drive drop on purpose and the batter would not be out. But he is out when it’s an Infield Fly, and the rules make clear that the Infield Fly Rule beats Rule 5.09(a)(12).

Although the batter is out, the Definitions state that “the ball is alive, and runners may advance at the risk of the ball being caught, or retouch and advance after the ball is touched, the same as on any fly ball.” This means, as I understand it, that although the runners can go, they’re liable to being doubled off the base if the fielder ends up catching the Infield Fly. Thus, the runners must still tag up if they want to advance safely in the event of a catch, and nothing in the Infield Fly Rule negates the retouch requirement of Rule 5.09(b)(5). But the ball dropped, so that didn’t come into play here.

Even after the ball dropped, the play is live and runners can advance at their own risk. Because the batter is out upon the declaration of an Infield Fly, the batter does not become a runner, and for that reason, the runners are not forced to advance, even if the ball drops in fair territory. That’s Rule 5.09(b)(6), which states basically that force plays only apply when the batter becomes a runner, and this batter in this play was not a runner. Al Hrabosky made it clear in the postgame show that he didn’t know this rule.

Now, check out what happend in the game. Romine and Ortega ran for 3rd base and 2nd base, respectively. Arenado recovered the ball. Gallegos pointed to 3rd base, and Areanado flipped the ball to DeJong, covering third base. At this point, Romine was about half-way to the 3rd base bag. Arenado didn’t tag him, instead, firing immediately to 2nd base, after Knizner pointed in that direction. The throw beat Ortega by a mile. Edman didn’t initially tag Ortega but instead pumped his fist in celebration, and Danny Mac exclaimed “Double Play!” on the telecast, at which point Ortega touched 2nd base.

Not so fast, Danny Mac. Romine was safe at 3rd base, because he was never tagged, and the 3rd base umpire didn’t call him out on a non-existent force play. But what about Ortega? Well, he was supposed to be safe initially upon touching 2nd base. We couldn’t see this from the initial viewing on television, but the replay from a different camera angle showed that the 2nd base umpire called Ortega out, but waited to do so until Ortega was running through 2nd base. Both Ortega and the 2nd base umpire thought it must have been a force play, because not only did the 2nd base umpire call Ortega out without being tagged, but Ortega started to walk leisurely towards 3rd base. With Edman having the ball on the base, there would have been no good reason for Ortega to just walk off unless he thought he was already out.

To complicate matters even further, Goldschmidt pointed towards 2nd base and must have yelled something, because Ortega reversed direction and walked towards the 2nd base bag. The 2nd base umpire immediately put both hands up and called time, at which point Edman, still holding the ball, tagged Ortega off the base. The umpires huddled together and ruled that Romine should be at 3rd base and Ortega back at 2nd base. Shildt came out to argue and was furious. You could see the 2nd base umpire saying “I called time,” and Shildt saying “The game’s fucking over. You fucked that up, I don’t care what you tell me.” Shildt then argued with the home plate umpire for about two minutes, cursing up a storm, and finally got thrown out. Then bench coach Ollie Marmol started to argue and try to get an explanation, with pitching coach Mike Maddux jogging over.

The whole thing was a cluster, because almost no one knew what they were doing. The 3rd base umpire waited too late to call the infield fly. The Cub runners must either not have heard or seen the call or known the rule, because if they had, they would not have tried to advance. At least Romine wouldn’t have tried to run to third, as he would have had no reasonable expectation of making it to third safely, assuming the Cardinal fielders knew the rule, and he would have been the 3rd out. I can get why Ortega might have gone on the throw just in case something happened. The Cardinal fielders didn’t know the rule, because both DeJong and Edman treated it as it was a force play with no efforts to tag either runner before they touched their respective base.

Even so, I don’t think Shildt or the Cards had a gripe at the end of the day. The runner at 3rd was obviously safe. Ortega should have been called safe instead of out and would have been entitled to that bag, as well. The key is that even though Ortega obviously didn’t know the rule, I’m confident that the only reason that he would have lingered off of 2nd base is that the 2nd base umpire called him out and the game was over. That’s where the 2nd base umpire screwed up. Having made that move, it wouldn’t have been right to allow Ortega to be tagged out for failing to get back to the base after he had already been called out. So the objectionable thing was calling Ortega out as if it were a force play, not in calling time to stop him from being tagged out to end the game. Here’s a video of the entire sequence.

The media reported after the game, that when given an opportunity to explain the situation, the umpires said “No comment.”

Whew. After all that, its 2nd and 3rd, with 2 out. The good thing is that none of it turned out to matter, as Gallegos struck out Ian Happ chasing a low 0-2 slider to end the game, pick up his 14th save of the season and give the Cards their 16th straight victory of the year.

PLAYOFF STATUS

First, let’s talk about what could have happened on Sunday. I have to give credit to VEB commenters Trinian, BigGreenTevas and belowreplacementaccountname, for pointing out that although the Cards’ magic number was 3 going into Sunday’s game, there was still a way for the Cards to clinch. In addition to a Cardinal victory, it would have required the Reds, Phillies and Braves to all lose. A Cardinal victory would have meant the maximum number of games they could lose was 75. A Reds loss would have eliminated that club, giving them their 76th loss.

The key to the whole clinching scenario was the fact that the Braves and Phillies play each other in a 3-game series starting Tuesday, which the magic number doesn’t take into account. It would not have been possible had the two clubs not had a series together. If both the Braves and Phillies had lost on Sunday, the Braves would have had 73 losses and the Phillies 75. Regardless of what would happen with the Cards the rest of the year, one of either the Phillies or Braves would have necessarily ended up with 76 losses at the end of their 3-game series—the Phillies if they lost one of the 3 games, or the Braves if the Phillies won all three. One of those clubs must win the NL East Division, because all other clubs in that division have been eliminated from the playoffs. The upshot is that, with the Reds eliminated, whichever club out of the Braves and Phillies that doesn’t win the NL East Division could not have possibly won the 2nd Wild Card.

In addition, the clinching possibility was simply a playoff spot, because the possibility remained that the Cards could run the table and win the final 6 games of the year after Sunday for a 22-game winning streak. If the Brewers lost not only Sunday but each of their final 6 games, the clubs would both finish with 93-69 records and be forced to play a game 163 to determine the NL Central division champion. The loser would have been the 2nd wildcard

So what happened on Sunday? The Brewers beat the Mets to clinch the NL Central Division. The Phillies lost, but the Braves and Reds both won. What does this mean for the future? The Cards could lock up the 2nd Wild Card spot by winning just 1 out of their final six games. What happens if the Cards lose them all? They would still clinch the 2nd Wild Card spot if (1) the Reds lose at least once; and (2) either the Phillies lose at least once OR the Braves lose one of their final 3 games of the season against the Mets. The fly in the ointment with the Braves is that their game against the Rockies on September 16th was postponed due to rain and will not be made up before everyone else finishes their games, because it was the last scheduled game among the two clubs. If the Phillies win all their games, and the Braves sweep the Mets to close the season, the Braves would be at 86-75 and forced to play their makeup game against the Rockies on October 4th. If the Reds lose once, the Phillies win all their games, the Braves sweep the Mets, and then the Braves lose that makeup game, the Cards would still clinch the 2nd Wild Card.

There still exists a remote possibility of three different tie-breaker scenarios at the end of the season. It’s possible that just the Cards and Reds both finish with 87-75 records at the end of the season, in which case a Game 163 would required between those two clubs to determine the 2nd Wild Card. That would require the Cards to lose all their remaining games, the Reds to win all their remaining games, and either (1) the Phillies lose once, or (2) the Braves to lose one of their final 3 games against the Mets, or their makeup game in the event they sweep the Mets. That same result would obtain if either the Phillies or Braves also ended up at 87-75, but not both.

There’s also the possibility that the Cards, Phillies and Braves all end up with 87-75 records. This would require the Cards to lose all their games, the Reds to lose at least once and Phillies to win all their games. The Braves would then have to sweep the Mets, and win their makeup game against the Rockies on October 4th. If all that happened, all three clubs would end up at 87-75. In that event, the Braves and Phillies would play a Game 163 to determine the NL East Winner, and the Cards would then host the winner of that game in an additional regular season game to determine the 2nd Wild Card.

Now suppose that everything I just described happened, but in addition, the Reds run the table. That would put the Cards, Braves, Reds and Phillies all at 87-75. How would that be resolved? You’ll have to stay tuned for that explanation. There is a super-complicated provision in the rules that has never been used before that would sort it out, but this recap is already very long, and I’ll cross that bridge when we come to it because it will give me something to write about for later. Here’s hoping we don’t have to worry about it. But the good news is that with today’s victory, I can tell you that the Cards can’t possibly be eliminated on the final day of the regular season. At a minimum, they are guaranteed to at least play a Game 163 in a tie-breaker scenario. No one can take the 2nd Wild Card spot outright out from under us.