ATLANTA - JULY 26: Andrew McCutchen #22 of the Pittsburgh Pirates is called out by umpire Dan Iassogna on a steal attempt against Julio Lugo #28 of the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on July 26, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
I'll post more on this ridiculous/incredible game as the night goes on, but ... wow. Home-plate umpire Jerry Meals just completely botched a call at the plate that gave the Braves a 4-3 win in the 19th inning. I have no idea how he could have ever thought the runner was safe - Michael McKenry plainly tagged the runner out a foot in front of the plate. The only explanation I can think of is that the guy wanted to go home. It's a huge slap in the face to the Pirates, and particularly Daniel McCutchen, who had labored heroically for several innings. There's just no other explanation, other than maybe the debilitating effects of six hours of outdoor baseball in Atlanta. Unbelievably terrible call. Here's a gif of the play.
Meals explains his rationale here:
"I saw the tag, but he looked like he oléd him and I called him safe for that. I looked at the replays and it appeared he might have got him on the shin area. I’m guessing he might have got him, but when I was out there when it happened I didn’t see a tag.
"I just saw the glove sweep up. I didn’t see the glove hit his leg."
I started watching this game at 7:00, and by 8:00 I was already of the opinion that it felt long, with both Tommy Hanson and Jeff Karstens working into a lot of deep counts and taking a long time to get through each inning. When McKenry hit his unlikely homer off Hanson in the second to put the Pirates up 3-0, I felt certain that the Pirates would be able to pull it out, because when they go up by a couple runs this year, their pitching has generally done a great job holding the lead.
It wasn't to be, as Karstens struggled in the third, allowing three runs of his own in the bottom of the third. And that was the last time either team would score for a really long time.
A number of both teams' higher-leverage relievers pitched standard one-inning stints in the late innings, but by the time the 11th rolled around, most of what was left was the lower-wattage guys. The Braves, luckily for them, had a guy in Cristhian Martinez who had already been starting for Class AAA Gwinnett, and they were able to have him go six innings, during which he allowed two hits and struck out six while walking none. Jason Grilli somehow got through three innings in which he stranded a ton of runners, but regardless, the Braves didn't score.
Then came Daniel McCutchen, who gutted his way through five scoreless innings. He and Martinez are clearly the heroes of the night. The Braves had to turn to their worst pitcher, Scott Proctor, in the 17th, and they couldn't get to him in three innings, stranding a total of five runners (two of whom at reached via intentional walks) between the 17th and 18th.
And then, the 19th. McCutchen walked Julio Lugo with one out, then gave up a single to Jordan Schafer that put Lugo at third. Schafer moved up to second on catcher's indifference. Proctor, who was batting at that point because he had to, grounded the ball to third. The throw home beat Lugo by a mile, and McKenry tagged him a foot in front of the plate. It wasn't even close. And for some reason, Meals called him safe.
Let me say this. Pirates fans have been fixated for 19 years on a certain play at the plate that involved the Atlanta Braves. Now they're in the midst of what might be their first winning season since then. If the Bucs' season starts to go south after this - as the result of another play at the plate involving the Atlanta Braves, and a thoroughly blown call at that - I could see a scenario in which Jerry Meals became a villain of epic proportions among Pittsburgh sports fans.
Or, you know, maybe the Bucs will go 7-3 in their next 10, and all will be forgotten. But this call - wow. Just wow.
... And I haven't even mentioned the Nate McLouth and Fredi Gonzalez ejections, or any number of other things. I started working a graveyard shift for SBNation.com at 10:00 that ended at 2:00. Normally when one of those is over I feel like I'm losing my mind, but on this particular night a game I had started watching at 7:10 was just ending.
UPDATE 3:26 AM: You can see the video here. As folks have pointed out in the comments, watch the way Lugo reacts. It's at the very end of the video. Does he look like a man who thinks he hasn't been tagged?