I should be asleep. I spent all weekend getting up early to go to lab to finish experiments and put together my seminar, I was up late last night and up early today, and when I got home from work this afternoon all I could think was that I wanted to veg out, turn the Pirates on, watch the game, and actually get to bed early for once. Now, it's 2:30 in the morning and I can't sleep because of the way the Pirates/Braves game ended.
For most of the game, I was mad at Clint Hurdle. I can't keep any of the early innings straight and I'm too tired to look them up, but at various points between, let's say, the 7th and 14th innings, Hurdle tried a squeeze play after Mike McKenry and Brandon Wood got hits off of Craig Kimbrel. It was so obvious he was going to try a squeeze, that the Braves' pitching coach came out of the dugout, they had a mound conference, and they threw a pitchout. Everyone knew that the Braves knew the Pirates were going to squeeze except for Hurdle. Instead of runners on first and third with one out and the top of the order up, the Pirates had a runner on first and two outs. Threat averted.
Later on, Andrew McCutchen drew a leadoff walk. Pedro Alvarez then bunted him over. Alvarez strugged quite a bit earlier in the game, but he also had to face two excellent LOOGYs in Jonny Venters and George Sherrill. By this point, Christhian Martinez, a righty was in the game. So maybe Alvarez was struggling, but he had a better matchup and he had Lyle Overbay and Ronny Cedeno hitting after him. Instead of giving a guy with some pop that's had some nice at-bats against righties in his two games back with the big league club try and chase one into a gap and score one of the NL's fastest players, Alvarez was handicapped and two terrible, terrible hitters came up with almost no chance to push him home.
The reason that it drives me nuts when Hurdle does things like this is because when I watch a baseball game, I want to watch a baseball game. Almost all of the little crap that managers do besides changing pitchers and using pinch-hitters and defensive replacements takes away from what the players are doing. I don't want to see Pedro Alvarez bunt, I want him to hack away and try to stick a ball in the gap and win the game and make me think that maybe he'll be the player the Pirates so badly need him to be. I want Xavier Paul to have a chance to play hero for the second straight day so that I can throw my hands up in disbelief and go, "Xavier Paul? Really? I just don't get this team and I don't even care!"
And then, the game ended. The game ended because Mike McKenry made a bad tag on Julio Lugo at home plate. It's true that McKenry could've probably applied the tag with a little more force and left no doubt, but tags aren't supposed to be scored on style points. McKenry left the door open just a bit and Jerry Meals, who I'm sure was worn out after almost 7 hours of umpiring, found plausible deniability in his head and decided to leap through that window and get it over with and call Lugo safe even though he very clearly wasn't. So after I spent almost seven hours watching a close, exciting, seesaw baseball game between two playoff contenders, and while I fumed for three hours about the Pirates' manager taking the game out of his players' hands, the game was decided by an umpire. An umpire.
I'm 26 years old, and I watched the Pittsburgh Pirates lose games at a seemingly ceaseless rate for 18 years. I've written several hundred recaps of Pirate losses for this blog. I've seen 20-0 losses. I've seen Oliver Perez strike out ten Braves in eight innings, give up a home run to Chipper Jones, and lose because the Pirates can't score on 11 hits off of Russ Freaking Ortiz. I've seen Mike Williams and Jose Mesa and Mike Gonzalez and Matt Capps and Octavio Dotel blow leads that I was certain were safe. The reality of being a Pirate fan that almost no one realizes is this: if you really keep on watching, the losses never stop stinging. Maybe they stop surprising you, but they never stop stinging.
Through all of the years of watching the Pirates lose, I've never had a visceral physical reaction to the end of a baseball game the way I did a couple of hours ago. I jumped up from the corner of my bed that I was perched on and kind of yelped. I watched the replay, then I sat down to try and write something about it, and my hands couldn't stop shaking. I could barely even type or think or see, because I'd spent so much time watching a baseball game and investing myself in it and suddenly, it was over and the players had almost nothing to do with it.
It's probably true that I care about the result of this game more than I might have in the past because of how this loss might affect the Pirates' playoff chances (What if they lose the NL Central by one game? Please. Don't even make me think about this.), but I came to the conclusion a long time ago that the only human element on a baseball field should be the players and seeing the Pirates lose a game because MLB refuses to address an obvious problem is just maddening. What happens if I submit a paper to a journal with misinterpreted data? Does the journal just publish it without ever reading it over, and then shrug and say, "Hey! Human error! Just a part of science!" when someone points out that I was wrong? No, the paper gets sent to other researchers who scour everything that I've done, who ask questions and make critiques and ask for more experiements and sometimes, flat out tell you that you're wrong and your paper can't be published. And do you know why the peer review system exists? Because sometimes, people screw up. It exists to keep false information from being published. No one's interested in any human element beyond the ability of me and the other members of my lab and my boss to ask questions and find ways to experimentally answer them in a definitive fashion. How else can you possibly do science?
And somehow, it's acceptable in baseball to let imperfect human beings make final judgments on a game they don't play when technology exists to do the job better. Look, I know better than anyone that humans aren't perfect. It's 3 AM and I'm sitting in my apartment ranting about baseball instead of sleeping. I'm far from perfect. But when I screw up, I pay the price. I'll be tired all day tomorrow because I'm up so late tonight. Maybe I'll spill a beaker of boiling hot agarose on the floor, and then I'll have to clean it up. When baseball umpires aren't perfect, we just press on and pretend like they were. Why do people think that this doesn't sound insane?
Did Jerry Meals have a bad angle on McKenry's swipe tag? He might've. Did he decide he was tired and he wanted to go home? Definitely possible. I feel pretty strongly that a good umpire makes the right call there most of the time, but maybe not 100% of the time even in the second inning and there are probably a lot of umpires whose success rate on that call would drop the longer the game goes on. But none of those things reflect the objective fact that McKenry tagged Julio Lugo; instead, the result of the game reflects that McKenry didn't tag Lugo -- it pretends Meals was right and the game is over. The players playing the game we fans love to watch did one thing, but the umpire decided that something else happened and took the game away from the players. In doing so, he ended what should've been an epic celebration of the weirdness and awesomeness of baseball in huge controversy. There was an amazing game in Atlanta on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. The Pirates' bullpen came into the game in the sixth inning, the Braves' bullpen came into the game in the seventh inning, and neither bullpen allowed a run until the bottom of the 18th. Both teams got some key hits early on, made big plays in the field as the game progressed, and Christhian Martinez and Scott Proctor and Jason Grilli and Dan McCutchen were all just phenomenal in a game that both teams refused to lose. And instead of talking about this incredible slice of baseball folkore, we're talking about an umpire. It's a shame.
Everyone with a computer knew within minutes for certain that Meals had made the wrong call. Why is it so hard to incorporate that into the game itself? Why do people argue that doing so would somehow affect the integrity of the game? How is it possible that having instant replay for a play like this one would hurt the integrity of the game more than what actually happened on the field early on Wednesday morning?
I wish I had answers, but Major League Baseball's been dragging its feet for so long on this that I'm afraid that there aren't any coming.
Looking at the replay a few more times, there are a couple of angles where the tag looks questionable, and those angles are the closest to what the umpire saw. So after that, plus having some caffeine and being more awake, I'll rescind my earlier anger. I'm still convinced that early in the evening that would have been called an out, but that doesn't matter now anyway. Let's just root for more Pirate wins. We've had big tests of the team's wall-building skills before, but this is probably the biggest it'll ever get.
Let me start off by letting everyone aware that jerry meals and i are going to spend the day together. He is flying to the shenango vally this yesterday night and i intend on being his chauffeur. We are both nervous but i assured jerry meals that we would have fun. Sorta like a date. First off jerry meals and i are waking up early and ima take him to the avenue of four hundred and forty four flags. Cuz thats a lot of flags of our country in one spiffy spot. Just so your also aware jerry will wear his umpire gear the whole trip. (His request). After the avenue of all these flags jerry and i are going to get some brekkie at the cookery. Im getting the continental omlette with hash browns and whiskey. Jerry ordered a sofa with two sides of water logged softballs. After we ate we snuck in a few games of cocktail ms. Pacman. We ended up winning. Then jerry and i went to the shenango valley dam and snagged some perch. We codd em and released em! Jerry then said he really liked christmas, so we went to kraynaks (which the bastard shoulda mentioned earlier since we were near all those flags) we went to sanda kristi land. He liked all the reindeer in their stables and bought himself a pack of reds. Jerry meals. Then jerry meals said we should go valley viewing. We did. I bought him a sega genesis, nba jam tournament edition and a montreal expos winter starter jacket (the one with the kangaroo pouch). We went to yankee doodle run but forgot our jim winner clubs so we high tailed it to the sky club for milk, nd slinkys. this is when jerry got out of hand. Low nd hold who comes waltzin into the club, ut kristopher krinkie himself. Meals went ape shit. Screamin and yellin bout how he blew the call at last nights mets vs oilers game. Said warren moon was definitely in bounds when he dunked the hoop. Santa esmeralda told him to stick a cork in it. Jerry meals pulls out a dirty hypodermic and sticks it in his own leg(only to tell us he meant to put it in one of sandtas rosy cheeks). He then insisted we go bar hoppin. Its night time now. so we went to el ariero and got marga-reetahs and nacho cheese. Then la isla for sambitches and dip dip. Just so we are all demarcus ware, jerry meals always picks up the tab. We then went to the orengevilla tavurn and colored for a few years. I colored in the adventures of dino riki book and jerry selected a limited edition denver the last dinosaur one. (Told him nice choice bro). Then we went to mayfield and put out the vibe. U wouldnt believe all the doods who came dancin and a boppin and a skippin his way. He had to of pulled at least 40 fone bum-bers from 40 dads. (Said when ur an ump ya gotta jump?) I said oak.
Jerry meals you may call me an opportunist,
but ive sincerely thought through this,
I remmember your first strike,
I remember your first ball.
I remember when i thought you were four hundred and forty four feet tall.
Was that call so bad that even John Russell would have come out of the dugout to argue?
@miniplen haha I was actually wondering this as well. And I was thinking, think how much more painful it would be today, when the team refused to speak out and just take their beatings? Today sucks. The end of last night's game sucked. A lot. But man, a pissed off and unified "us against the world" franchise in the middle of a pennant race is a beautiful thing that we haven't seen in a long time.
Anyone follow Grilli on twitter?
Unbelievable effort from entire @Pirates team Unfair ending. Everyone sacked up! Definitely in favor of instant replay after that experience.
No ESPN today. I already know what happened in last nights game. Fired up to go to battle today. Our club has SACK!
McKenry didn't make a "bad" tag. There is no such thing as a bad tag and a good tag. You either "tag" him or you don't. He tug, so therefore he was out. Furthermore, the throw beat him there by at least 4 feet, so the call is almost automatic at that point unless the catcher drops the ball. Think about all the "ole" tags at 2nd base on a steal, or when the 2nd basement doesn't necessarily "step" on the middle of the bag when turning two, but rather slides his foot across the bag...are all of those calls now in play?
He used poor technique, did you really not know what I (using Pat's phrase) meant? I don't mean to be a dick, but to turn the same thing back on you:
There is no such thing as an "almost automatic" call. When the throw arrived doesn't matter. At all.
respectfully disagree, it absolutely does matter when the throw arrives, umps give you the call the great majority of the time when the throw beats the runner, especially in this case when it beat the runner by so much...just think about the swipe tags at 2nd base on stolen base attempts. @azibuck
@buccofan63 I just mean that he didn't make a solid tag, which he definitely had a chance to do.
I agree, I guess the point I was trying to make is that someone is either safe or out, it's black and white. I think Fort was setting up to make the throw to first, but when he was called safe, he stopped in his tracks. The one silver lining, if there is one, is that the Pirates are getting great national exposure. @whygavs
@azibuck It's hard to contain an angry rant at 3 AM. I'm going to be a little more concise on the bunting in a minute here.
Honestly, I'd have been more pissed about this call if the whole sequence hadn't been set up by the Pirates allowing the uncontested steal of second, with one out and the pitcher coming up, why the hell do you just allow the other team to remove the possibility of the double play?
Also, I hope Paul goes out and throws a complete game shutout tonight. Time for the game of his life.
I'm so glad that I fell asleep last night during the 18th, if I would've seen this call last night at 2am, I would've woken up everyone in my apartment building.
Yes, it is maddening that McCutchen had to pitch that long, I still don't get that, but for an UMP to be the one to throw the pirates out of first place on a call like THAT and to end a game like that on an awful call, it's just unacceptable.
How late are strip clubs open in Atlanta? That's the only excuse I can think of for Jerry Meals...
Very well thought out Pat.
Last night I sent two messages to MLB via their contact/help page. I will probably send another email to the bud selig email address later today. Not because I believe it will change anything, but I feel like I just can't sit here and do nothing - I have do to something, no matter how small it is.
That said, I do hope the team has mostly moved on. I hope they play with a focused edge, but not uncontrollable anger that gets them off their game.
Wow... I am so pissed after watching that replay!! You are spot on Pat, this is unbelievable... I agree with Eephus, if I had been in Hurdle's position, I'd be in jail right now for punching the guy.
Thanks for a gifted expression of obviously undeserved deep psychic baseball pain. As a Phillies fan I've known the sting of insult to injury. Having grown up in an era when the Bucs mattered...Stargell, Parker, Tekulve, Hebner, and so on. I can only tell you that watching the Bucs being effectively forced to forfeit this game stings baseball lovers even outside of Pittsburgh.
I'm not a violent guy, but while watching the replay for the first time just now, I really wanted Hurdle to walk up to Meals and punch him. No argument, no yelling, just punch him.
Pete Rose is banned from baseball because any connection an MLB player has with gambling damages "the integrity of the game".
Funny; I would think blatantly incorrect calls by umpiring would also be viewed as damaging the integrity of the game - but no, they're "part of the traditional human element".
The thing that I wonder about is whether replay would even help on this play. Assuming they used the same standard as football, would they determine it was conclusive that he tagged him within a reasonable amount of time? Sometimes once the first call is made, even if it's clearly wrong, you don't end up with enough evidence to say it was conclusive.
@blzr409 Great point. I don't at all question whether he was out, nor do I think you can objectively conclude anything other than the fact that he was out. But if you were reviewing this play, would you need to see his pants move from the tag? What evidence is there that a tag is in place?