During the early hours of this morning, arguably the best game of the season came to a controversial end. The Atlanta Braves defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates in a 19-inning game that lasted approximately six hours and 39 minutes.
In the first two innings, the Pirates jumped out to an early 3-0 lead, but the Braves quickly answered with three runs of their own in the third. Braves starter Tommy Hanson matched up well with the Pirates' Jeff Karstens, tossing six innings and allowing three earned runs.
Karstens would pitch five quality innings. However, after the starters left, the bats went flat.
Eric O'Flaherty, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel pitched as expected: They limited hitters to two hits and one walk while striking out six over three innings. The Pirates matched them, silencing the Braves bats as well.
Tied at three in the 9th, the already “injured” Chipper Jones pinch hit for Venters and grounded out. Later in a dispute on a called strike by umpire Jerry Meals, Nate McLouth was quickly ejected along with manager Fredi Gonzalez. Schafer, a late scratch from the lineup due to injury, came into the game. Bats off the bench were quickly running out.
Fresh into extra innings, the injury plagued Braves would suffer another loss. Attempting to throw out baserunner Neil Walker, Brian McCann had to leave the game with a strained left oblique. David Ross replaced him, leaving the Braves with no more hitters on the bench.
Nobody would cross home plate for another eight innings. There were a few missed squeeze attempts, some amazing defensive plays and brilliant pitching. Middle reliever Cristhian Martinez came on in the 11th and pitched six scoreless innings while only yielding two hits. He would also showcase his skills at the plate with a single and a sacrifice bunt. In the meantime, Pirates pitchers, most notably Jason Grilli, would shut down Atlanta as well.
Into the bottom of the 19th, the Atlanta Braves and the Pittsburgh Pirates remained in a dead tie.
With one man out, Julio Lugo would work the count and draw a walk. Jordan Schafer followed with a single to put men on the corners. Coming to the plate was none other than relief pitcher Scott Proctor. A little more poised at the plate than expected, Proctor would ground the ball to third baseman Pedro Alvarez, who promptly fired a bullet to home plate retiring Lugo.
Safe! (Wait a minute)
Umpire Jerry Meals ruled Lugo safe at the plate. A furious Clint Hurdle came running out to dispute the call. Catcher Michael McKenry gave Jerry Meals a few unkind words as well.
In the meantime, the Atlanta Braves rushed Scott Proctor, who initially fell out of the batter's box. Lugo, after realizing that he was indeed “safe,” joined in on the festivities. What a game!
Personally I am surprised the Braves had enough energy to celebrate. Some have argued that maybe Jerry Meals did not want to see the 20th inning. Maybe the 90-degree weather was beginning to take its toll on him.
Either way, the game was incredibly entertaining and quite possibly the best game that I have seen. I'm just glad Atlanta ended up on the winning side.