By now, I’m sure you know the outcome of last night’s Braves-Pirates game. But please, let me run through the details for you. In the bottom of the 19th, yes the 19th(!) inning, Braves pitcher Scott Proctor hits a dribbler up the third base line. Julio Lugo, who had a good lead, takes off for home. Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez makes the play on the ball and fires it to catcher Mike McKenry, who has position a foot away from the plate. McKenry makes the catch, Lugo slides under him and comes to a complete stop a foot away from the plate, the tag is made on both shins and he’s … safe. He was safe. And because Lugo was called safe, umpire Jerry Meals did a terrible thing for the game of baseball.
Tuesday night’s game was a spectacular one for both clubs. It set records for longest in club history (six hours, 39 minutes) for both teams. More spectacularly, the Braves and Pirates bullpens combined for 26 scoreless innings of relief pitching; no team scored between the third and 19th innings.There were spectacular defensive plays from Freddie Freeman and Alvarez late in the contest — plays neither player might had tried quite has hard for had it been the fifth or sixth inning. But none of that matters. The game will always be remembered for the call that ended it rather than the actions that got it there, and that makes for a sad day in baseball.
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I’m not going to go out on a limb and say it was the worst call in major league history, as David Shoenfield did over at ESPN. I still maintain that dubious honor belongs to Jim Joyce, who blew Armando Galarraga‘s perfect game last season on a blatantly missed call. Joyce’s call had a much bigger impact on baseball history — there’s only been 18 perfect games thrown in the history of the sport — but I will confidently say that this is the second worst call. There’s not many other calls that can compare when you consider the circumstances.
To blow a call so obvious baffles me. These umpires are trained professionals. It’s not like they’re Little League umpires pulled from the Jefferson Township mustang baseball league. What could Jerry Meals have had to do at two in the morning that made it necessary to blatantly miss that call? I don’t even want to hear that he was tired. McKenry squated behind that plate for 19 long innings, and he still had the gusto to make that play look effortless. Meals was in perfect position to make an easy call on the play. He didn’t, and the players and fans are the ultimate losers in the deal.
Watch video of the call and you’ll see that even Lugo was surprised he was called safe. After the tag was made, he stood up and accepted that he was out, ready to walk back to the dugout. In retrospect, Lugo made a terrible baseball play. There wasn’t a force, there wasn’t a runner on first — Lugo didn’t have to run in the hit. It wasn’t until after the call was made that he actually made an attempt to jump on the plate. Lugo is still claiming this morning that he was safe, but based on his actions on the field, he knows he was out.
Add this to the long list of reasons why MLB needs instant review. To see an epic game end the way it did on Tuesday (well Wednesday morning) might as well be a crime. Jerry Meals did more than blow a baseball game. He slapped the sport in the face by tainting what was otherwise a spectacular game by both clubs. Both teams deserved to play until the end was fairly established, and the fact that is wasn’t is an unforgivable offense.