After blown call costs Pirates, can we please have expanded replay?

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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.

(Watch the video here)

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.

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Astros push ALCS to Game 7 with 7-1 stunner against Yankees

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There’s just something about playing in your home ballpark. The Astros decimated the Yankees at Minute Maid Park on Friday, riding seven scoreless innings from Justin Verlander and a pair of big runs from Jose Altuve to win 7-1 and force a Game 7 in the American League Championship Series.

Through the first four innings, however, the teams looked equally matched. Luis Severino no-hit the Astros through 3 2/3 innings, losing his bid on Carlos Correa‘s line drive single in the fourth. The Astros returned in the fifth to do some real damage, drawing two walks and plating the first run of the night with Brian McCann‘s ground-rule double off of the right field wall. Things didn’t get any easier for Severino. Jose Altuve lined a two-RBI base hit into left field, upping Houston’s advantage to three runs.

Verlander, meanwhile, muted the Yankees’ offense with seven innings of five-hit, eight-strikeout ball. While he didn’t come close to matching his complete game effort in Game 2, he was still plenty dominant against a struggling New York lineup. No player reached past first base until the sixth inning, when a pair of base hits from Chase Headley and Didi Gregorius gave the Yankees their first runner in scoring position. That didn’t last long, though, as Gary Sanchez grounded out on a 3-0 slider to end the inning.

In the seventh, Houston’s ace got into another spot of trouble. He walked Greg Bird on six pitches to start the inning, then plunked Starlin Castro on the wrist. Aaron Hicks struck out, in part thanks to a questionable call by home plate umpire Jim Reynolds, but it was Todd Frazier who presented the biggest threat after returning an 0-1 fastball for a 403-foot fly out to left field. Luckily for Verlander, George Springer was there to bail him out with a leaping catch at the wall.

The Yankees kept things exciting in the eighth, too. Aaron Judge ripped his third postseason home run off of Brad Peacock, taking a 425-footer out to the train in left field to spoil the Astros’ shutout. That was the only real break the Yankees got, however, as Altuve, Alex Bregman and Evan Gattis returned in the bottom of the inning to tack on another four runs, including Altuve’s solo shot off of David Robertson:

Ken Giles handled the ninth, expending 23 pitches and giving up a base hit and a walk before retiring Frazier and Headley to end the game. Thanks to Houston’s winning efforts, the two teams will compete in their first seven-game Championship Series since 2004 — and this time, at least one of them is guaranteed to come away with a win.

Game 7 of the ALCS is set for Saturday at 8:00 PM ET. Houston right-hander Charlie Morton (14-7, 3.62 ERA) is scheduled to face southpaw CC Sabathia (14-5, 3.69 ERA).