They will be talking about this one for a long, long time. The game itself was long. The game featured many, many blown chances. Ultimately, the game ended on a blown call. Home plate umpire Jerry Meals called Julio Lugo safe on a tag play at home in the 19th inning. He was out. He was clearly out. He was called safe and the game ended.
The blown call caused mayhem for both parties. Atlanta celebrated in right field like a man who was just rescued from sea after treading water for six hours. The Pirates exploded. On the replay, catcher Michael McKenry pleaded his case stating that he tagged the runner, after apparently being told by Meals that he had missed the tag. Daniel McCutchen noticed that Soctt Proctor – the Braves pitcher who put the fateful ball in play – had slipped running to first and could easily have been retired at first for a double play. Before he realized Lugo was called safe, McCutchen was encouraging McKenry to throw to first. Clint Hurdle was on the scene quickly and he stalked Meals all the way off the field. Hurdle’s face turned a shade of purplish/red you usually only see when someone is being choked. Meals body language as he left the field seemed to indicate he knew he had goofed, badly.
Despite the blown call, the umpires didn’t cost Pittsburgh the game. Even if Meals gets the call right and the Braves are held scoreless, there is no guarantee the Pirates win. This is awful no doubt (and let’s hope the Pirates don’t miss a shot at the post-season by a single game). But Pittsburgh was 2-15 with runners in scoring position. A clutch hit from either team earlier in the game would’ve ended it. What cost Pittsburgh the game was an inability to convert. Jeff Passan makes the case for instant reply, citing this as another example of why such a change is needed. I’ll cite this game as another reason the Pirates will need to acquire a bat if they are going to stick around the race in 2011.
The 19th went down like this. Daniel McCutchen was out for his sixth frame. With one out, he walked Lugo. Jordan Schafer singled and Lugo went to third. Proctor – batting for himself as McCutchen had done due to an empty bench – grounded to Pedro Alvarez at third. His throw hom to McKenry clearly beat Lugo. But Meals stated later that he saw McKenry make a swipe tag and he didn’t think the glove had hit the runner. He was wrong. Game over.
After putting up three runs early against Tommy Hanson, the Pirates offensive woes continued. Atlanta broke through for the tying three spot in the third against Jeff Karstens. Then the deadlock ensued.
Xavier Paul led off the game with a single and scored on a one out triple from Neil Walker. With two gone, Walker scored when Alvarez singled. The Pirates made it 3-0 in the second against Hanson when McKenry busted his second homer of the year. But after getting four hits against Hanson in the first two innings, they would get just three more over the next four innings.
Karstens was in trouble from the onset, as well. Nate McLouth walked to lead off the game and went to third on a throwing error by McKenry. But he was stranded. Atlanta left two on in the second before tying the game in the third. With two outs, Brian McCann, Freddie Freeman and Dan Uggla hit consecutive singles to score one run. After Eric Hinske walked, Jason Heyward singled home two runs.
Neither team could produce a clutch hit. Tony Watson pitched out of a bases loaded jam in the sixth. Atlanta stranded two runners in three straight innings against Jason Grilli in extra frames. The Pirates had a squeeze attempt in the ninth thwarted by a pitchout and put the go ahead run at second numerous times in extra innings.
Karstens was pulled for a pinch hitter after five innings. He was charged with three runs on six hits and three walks. He struck out three. Hanson lasted six innings and gave up three runs, too. He struck out six while walking two and giving up seven hits. Christhian Martinez tossed six shoutout innings for Atlanta before giving way to Proctor who picked up the win with two scoreless innings. McCutchen threw 5-1/3 innings and got the loss.
13-1/3 innings pitched by the bullpen with just one run allowed.
Karstens was back down to earth, but certainly an acceptable outing.
Walker and McKenry had three hits. Paul and Ronny Cedeno each had two.
A terrible call ended the game.
I thought maybe the offense was going to explode after the quick blast out of the gate. I was wrong. No one could come up with the big hit.
Alvarez and McKenry each committed an error.
Karstens came into the game 1-2 against Atlanta. Hanson lost his only other start to the Pirates.
Pittsburgh had gone eight games between homers.
Bucs came into the gam3 5-3 in extra innings. Atlanta was 10-8.
According to the data available on baseball-reference.com, the only other time the Pirates struck out 20 or more times in a game was 9/22/58 against Philadelphia. Sam Morehead started for Philly and went nine. Ron Kline was the loser, going all the way and losing in the bottom of the 14th.
Based on the data available on baseball-reference.com, it appears that the Braves set a team record for opponents struck out in a game.
Martinez’ relief effort was the longest for a Brave reliever since Rick Mahler went eight innings on 5/14/88 in a 19 inning Atlanta win over St. Louis. Future Pirate Zane Smith started that one for Atlanta. That was the last time Atlanta went past 18 innings.
Last time Pittsburgh went longer than 18 innings was 7/6/80 with Bert Blyleven starting against Rick Reuschel, then of the Cubs.
Proctor had not hit in a game since 6/23/2007 when he was a Yankee playing an inter-league game. This was his first career RBI. McCutchen had hit two other times in 2011 but hadn’t come to bat twice in a game since 8/25/10 in a start against St. Louis.
This was the longest game in Pirates history, eclipsing the game of 8/25/79 against San Diego. If you’ve read Willie Stargell’s autobiography, you might remember this game. Stargell recounts how Buc reliever Dave Roberts loaded the bases with two outs in the bottom of the 16th. Roberts took a moment to regain himself and saw Dave Winfield, occupying second base, make a choking movement with his hands directed at Roberts. He proceeded to strike out the next hitter to end the inning and then pitched out of a bases loaded and no one out jam in the 17th. Tim Foli had the go ahead hit in the 19th.
This game got me thinking of the events of June 21, 2003. My brother and I were on hand at PNC sitting in the Bayer Corporation luxury box (pretty sweet) to watch the Indians and Bucs go at it. Pittsburgh won in the 15th after Abraham Nunez led off with a triple. But it was a nutty game. The Tribe was leading by a run with one man on in the top of the eighth. Brandon Phillips hit one deep to left that Brian Giles made what is easily the greatest catch I have ever seen in person to take away a home run. Reggie Sanders tied it with a homer in the bottom of the eighth. But Cleveland pushed across a run in the ninth. The Pirates managed to tie it in the bottom of the ninth when John McDonald and Casey Blake made errors on consecutive hitters on absolutely routine ground balls. Julian Tavarez tossed five innings of hitless ball before yielding to Scott Sauerbeck who got the win. I was checking out the box score for game and saw a great example of a minor flaw in the Win Expectancy statistics. The top five plays didn’t include Giles absolutely robbing Phillips of a dinger in the eighth. If Giles doesn’t make the play, it is a 7-4 game and the Pirates are doomed. Whereas Win Expectancy can measure the postive (a homer) or negative (a double play) of offensive efforts, the stat doesn’t measure the influence of the defense on the non-routine plays.