On July 26, 2011, the Pittsburgh Pirates were well on their way to contending for their first playoff berth since 1992 when "the blown call" occurred.
It was the bottom of the 19th inning in Atlanta. With runners on second and third base with one out, Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Scott Proctor was at the plate. Pirates pitcher Daniel McCutchen was on the mound.
With an 0-2 count and pitching from the stretch, McCutchen delivered what would be the final pitch of the at-bat. Proctor swung and the ball dribbled to third base. Third baseman Pedro Alvarez swooped it up and threw it home. Running from third was Braves utility man Julio Lugo. The ball reached catcher Michael McKenry's glove in time to give him several feet of breathing space before tagging Lugo out.
Upon tagging Lugo, home plate umpire Jerry Meals flailed his arms. Safe was the call! Lugo was several feet from home plate but it didn't matter. The game was over and the Braves won. Everyone can go home now.
Then, like the decades before and the two years that followed, managers such as Pirates skipper Clint Hurdle had no available recourse. Sure, the Pirates would officially protest the game after, but that is more symbolic than anything. Said protest meant nothing. The Braves would get a tally mark in their win column while the Pirates would receive one in their loss column.
And the Pirates 2011 campaign for overturning nearly 20 years of misery would begin to crumble. At 53-49, the Pirates would finish the season with a 19-41 record through the last few days of July, August and September. What a collapse it was.
Stand in front of PNC Park just several feet away from Jerome Bettis's restaurant and grill and ask any Pirates fan about the 19-inning debacle in Atlanta. Anger, frustration and pain will emit from their pores. Sure, that anger, frustration and pain has subsided since the Pirates finally made the playoffs two years later, but it still exists.
Following the game, home plate umpire Jerry Meals admitted that he got the Lugo-McKenry call wrong. It wouldn't matter. Little did Pittsburgh know, their season was about to be over.
What would have happened if Major League Baseball had an extended instant replay rule in late July of 2011?
No one knows for sure, but many pundits believe that the funk surrounding the fallout of that game crushed the Pirates' hopes.
Fast-forward to August 2013. MLB Vice-President Joe Torre, former Braves GM John Schuerholz and future Hall of Famer Tony La Russa introduced a proposal that would be voted on in the 2013-14 MLB Winter Meetings. This proposal would extend instant replay beyond the minuscule home run replay we know it as now.
The new replay policy will allow managers to ask for replay reviews in a style that is similar to the NFL's challenge system. Managers will have three challenges -- one in the first six innings of the game and two beyond that. Under the new system, which will be phased in starting next season, 89 percent of plays will be deemed reviewable. Should a manager exhaust his three challenges, the umpiring crew can still convene to conduct their own review of a questionable home run.
Let's fast forward again. On November 14, 2013 MLB owners approved the new instant replay system. While they are expected to accept it, the new proposal will only need approved by the MLBPA and umpires' union. The rule will then be enacted by a vote of the MLB owners again in January.
This new system, as mentioned above, will be put into place for the 2014 season. Aside from the initial proposal, the approved plan will allow each team to have two challenges. If a manager loses on his first challenge, he loses the second challenge.
In similar fashion to the National Football League, this replay system is a step in the right direction.
If used intelligently and efficiently, this new challenge system will allow future teams to avoid the pain-staking ills of yesteryear. No longer will fans have to sit by and watch Jerry Meals blow an obvious call at the plate. We will never again see Jim Joyce ruin another perfect game. Right, Armando Galarraga?
Well, not necessarily. However, the odds of improving bad judgment calls that are ruining America's national pastime drastically improved. For many from the old media and old school, this may be a step in the wrong direction. But those many are the minority now. We are in the digital age, and we don't have time to get things wrong.
Kudos to commissioner Bud Selig and the MLB owners. Expanded instant replay will be good for baseball much like interleague games were and continue to be.