ATLANTA -- There was a lingering sense of disappointment and bewilderment as many of the Braves returned to Turner Field on Saturday.
Twenty-four hours after entering a new postseason experience with great optimism, they found themselves deflated by a poor defensive performance and the questionable infield fly ruling that will bother them throughout the winter.
"It's kind of an empty feeling that you get," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "From all of the ways that you replay your games or think about what could happen going into a series, the way we lost yesterday was never in my mind. And I'm not even talking about the ruling. I'm just talking about the mishandling of the baseball."
Ultimately, the Braves might have been doomed by the three errors they committed during Friday night's 6-3 loss to the Cardinals in the National League's one-game Wild Card playoff. Or maybe it was the fact that they stranded 12 runners and went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position. The combination produced a devastating concoction.
Whatever the case, Chipper Jones found himself strolling around on Saturday facing the reality that his career ended with one of the craziest games he has ever experienced. During the first morning of his post-playing days, he watched his sons play football and then came to the stadium to clean out his locker.
"That's a shot of reality right there," Jones said. "But I'm looking forward to it. Kids won their football game this morning. This is a lot easier than I thought it would be five years ago when I thought this moment would come. That lets me know that I'm ready to go."
The conclusion of the Braves' 2012 season will not be best remembered by errant throws or even Gonzalez's decision to call for Andrelton Simmons to execute a safety squeeze bunt with one out, runners at the corners and Kris Medlen on deck in the fourth inning. Simmons did not execute and the Braves squandered that opportunity.
By the time this game concluded, the focus had been removed from this questionable strategy and placed on left-field umpire Sam Holbrook's decision to make an infield fly ruling on a ball that fell between Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma and left fielder Matt Holliday. The ruling led to a riotous scene at Turner Field and slowed some of the momentum the Braves were generating in an eighth-inning rally.
"There are always case studies after something happens and it usually takes something like this for it to be studied further," Braves general manager Frank Wren said. "I've been in the game for 34 years and I can't remember the infield fly rule having this big of an impact. But that's not the reason we lost the ballgame. We lost the ballgame because we didn't make routine plays."
When Major League Baseball executive vice president Joe Torre and Holbrook addressed the media after Friday's game, many of the Braves players listened via clubhouse televisions and made snide remarks amongst themselves.
By the time that Saturday arrived, they were still bewildered by the ruling.
"The feeling is that it was a bad judgment call," Braves pitcher Tim Hudson said. "Some guys on TV were saying that they agreed with the umpire. I really don't understand what they were watching. I don't know how they are interpreting the rule. It was a shallow fly ball to left field that got misplayed for a single. There couldn't have been a force out, much less a double play. That rule is in place to protect the runners from getting doubled off."
As Gonzalez was getting the oil changed in his son's car on Saturday morning, he was asked about the ruling by a few other patrons. Unfortunately, his winter will be filled with memories and questions about this "infield fly" that landed 225 feet from the plate.
"My thing with Sam [Holbrook] was, this is way out here for you to be calling an infield fly, way out here," Gonzalez said. "At the time, you didn't know how far out, but it just didn't feel right. Then you look at the replays over and over and over again and it's just like ... But again, you would have liked to have taken a shot with [Brian] McCann at the plate and the bases loaded with one out. But you can't say that cost us the game."
Wren said he felt quite comfortable and confident before his team committed three errors and became the first victim of this one-game Wild Card playoff that Major League Baseball implemented this year.
"It's not a format that is indicative of the best team," Wren said. "When you're playing for six months and 162 games, it's not a sport where you play 20 games. It's not a sport where you play a handful of games and then one game is appropriate. It's about series and winning series. One game is kind of a harsh reality.
"I think there are a lot of people that love it. They love the drama. They're not sitting where we are this morning."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com.