I hope that if the Pittsburgh Pirates miss the playoffs this season, it will be by more than one game.
The Pirates, who at 53-48 trail the NL Central-leading Cardinals by one game, were handed a 4-3, 19-inning defeat early Wednesday morning when Atlanta’s Julio Lugo was called safe by umpire Jerry Meals on a not-so-close play at the plate.
Lugo was awarded the run despite the ball arriving to Pirates catcher Michael McKenry several feet before he did. He was called safe despite McKenry standing out in front of the plate as he tagged Lugo. Lugo didn’t even touch the plate until after McKenry turned to show the ball to Meals.
There is no guarantee the Pirates would have won the contest. Lugo would have been the second out, and the Braves would have still had runners on first and second. But Meals’ call put an end to a game that had no business ending, and the whole thing looked like the actions of an umpire who was ready to go to back to the hotel and go to sleep.
To his credit, Meals spoke to MLB.com’s Mark Bowman after the game and more or less admitted that he blew the call.
“I saw the tag, but he looked like he oléd him and I called him safe for that. I looked at the replays and it appeared he might have got him on the shin area. I’m guessing he might have got him, but when I was out there when it happened I didn’t see a tag.
“I just saw the glove sweep up. I didn’t see the glove hit his leg.”
Now I’m not one who spends a lot of time complaining about umpires, as it’s largely a frustrating and fruitless exercise. The umpires have a difficult job. They have to judge whether fleet-footed players are safe or out on the base paths, and whether bullet-like fastballs and filthy breaking balls are in or out of the strike zone. Errors are going to be made, and I believe that over the course of a marathon season, the calls tend to even out.
But at some point there has to be some accountability. The explanations of “oh sorry, I might have blown that call,” start to ring hollow after a while, especially when the technology is there to help them get it right. Yes, the umpires make mistakes. But some of these mistakes don’t have to happen.
Bud Selig is not thrilled about the idea of expanding instant replay. But if he needed a watershed moment to give him the necessary kick in the rear, perhaps this is it.