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As convenient as it may be, don't blame the embarrassment that took place at Turner Field in Atlanta early this morning solely on an umpire.
Pin the tail where it belongs—on the laggards in Major League Baseball who allow for this sort of thing to happen time after time after time after time...
Everyone knows that that Pirates catcher Michael McKenry tagged Atlanta Braves shortstop Julio Lugo before he reached the plate in 19th inning last night. The Pirates know it. The Braves know it. The fans know it. Now that umpire Jerry Meals has seen the television replays, even he knows it.
"The Pittsburgh Pirates organization is extremely disappointed by the way its 19-inning game against the Atlanta Braves ended earlier this morning," president Frank Coonelly said in an obligatory prepared statement today. "The game of baseball and this game in particular, filled with superlative performances by players on both clubs, deserved much better. We have filed a formal complaint with the Commissioner.
"While we cannot begin to understand how umpire Jerry Meals did not see the tag made by Michael McKenry three feet in front of home plate, we do not question the integrity of Mr. Meals. Instead, we know that Mr. Meals' intention was to get the call right. Jerry Meals has been umpiring Major League games for 14 years and has always done so with integrity and professionalism. He got this one wrong."
OK, the ump blew the call. It was late. Real late. After Meals had called 609 pitches, maybe the poor guy had enough. (Not to be too progressive here, but shouldn't the umpires rotate after 400 pitches or so?) More likely, fatigue had set in. At 1:50 a.m., your eyes don't always see what they saw hours earlier.
No, the problem is, in Major League Baseball, there's no way to right a wrong of this magnitude. Still.
In the NFL, this sort of thing almost certainly wouldn't have happened. If this had been professional football, with very few exceptions, manager Clint Hurdle would have challenged the call, it would have been overturned and the game might be in the 49th inning right now. Then again, that's why the NFL is the national pastime, while MLB is just plain past its prime.
This is a tired, old story in baseball. Does the name Jeffrey Maier ring a bell? He was the fan who reached into the field of play to interfere with a long fly ball in the playoffs. Umpire Richie Garcia mistakenly rule a home run. The New York Yankees won the game in extra innings and went on to win the series, but not before the controversy triggered serious debates about the need for instant replay.
That was one Yankee Stadium and 15 years ago!
The apologists will tell you that human error is what makes Major League Baseball so special. You know, sort of like Megan Fox looks so much better with a mustache. Baseball is a game of rhythm and flow. Who wants to wait 60 seconds to get it right, right? Besides, they'll drone on, one game doesn't make a difference in a 162-game season.
Wrongo. This was a crucial defeat for a Pirates team that dropped from first to third on the sound of one four-letter word—Safe! This team has a very small margin for error. It can't afford to lose even one of these kinds of games, least of all on a night/day when its bullpen is called on to pitch 13 1/3 innings. For the sake of Jerry Meals, the team and its fans, I can only hope that the Pirates don't finish one game out of the playoffs.
Don't dump on the ump, though. Major League Baseball blew this call years ago.
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Paul Ladewski covers the Pirates for Piratesreport.com. Unless otherwise noted, the quotes were obtained first-hand, from industry sources or official Pirates media materials.