[Updated at 5:42 p.m. ET] A lot of people who love baseball sing the praises of its timelessness. No clock, game goes until somebody wins. Joe Posnanski wrote a long piece about this in Sports Illustrated just last week. And only in baseball can a game go almost seven hours – 19 innings – end at almost 2 a.m., and actually be over too soon.
That’s because what was (in the minds of many) pretty clearly a blown call by an umpire gave the Atlanta Braves a 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates early Wednesday morning. It was the longest game ever played at Atlanta’s Turner Field. If the ump had gotten the call right, the game could have moved into a 20th inning. See for yourself.
The umpire, Jerry Meals, told a pool reporter after the game that after he saw the replays, it did appear to him that Pirates catcher Mike McKenry tagged the Braves' Julio Lugo on the shin on a play at the plate when Lugo tried to score on a ground ball to third base. But, Meals said, “when I was out there, when it happened, I didn’t see a tag.”
Of course to Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, it was obvious all along.
"I saw (McKenry) tag him three feet in front of the plate” he told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, “and that's the way it looked when I went back in there and looked at it again – he tagged him three feet in front."
Major League Baseball's chief of on-field operations, former big-league manager Joe Torre, said Wednesday afternoon that it appears Meals missed the call.
"Many swipe tags are not applied to the runner with solid contact, but the tag was applied and the game should have remained tied," Torre said in an e-mailed statement. "I have spoken with Jerry, who is a hard-working, respected umpire, and no one feels worse than him."
Torre's statement anticipated people calling for MLB to expand video replay reviews. MLB currently allows replay only for home run calls.
"I have heard many discussions on umpiring and technology over the past two years, including both the pros and the cons of expanding replay. However, most in the game recognize that the human element always will be part of baseball and instant replay can never replace all judgment calls by umpires," Torre said. "Obviously, a play like this is going to spark a lot of conversation, and we will continue to consider all viewpoints in our ongoing discussions regarding officiating in baseball."
The impact of the Braves-Pirates call is magnified because both teams are fighting for division leads or chances for the National League wild-card slot, so every game and every call counts. For those less invested in the outcome of the game, you can check out this top trending hashtag: #jerrymealssaysitssafe, where people say they’ll do something dangerous – like run with scissors, or put a fork in a light socket, or tell people that nothing bad will happen if the U.S. defaults – all ending with “jerrymealssaysitssafe."
Besides being timeless, the baseball season is also sort of endless. It lasts for 162 games, so the Pirates, Braves, and Jerry Meals will all be back out there tonight for a 7 p.m. game.