On a fly-out the Braves sent the runner from third base to try to score and break the tie in the bottom of the 19th inning; the throw from Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez was strong and on target, beating the runner home by a wide margin and the tag was made...or was it?
Home plate umpire Jerry Meals called the runner safe, saying that he believed that Julio Lugo was able to avoid the swipe tag by Pirate catcher Michael McKenry.
“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.”
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle exploded from the dugout and immediate started berating Meals for his call. From several replays from different angles it appears that Hurdle had an argument; the throw clearly beats Lugo to the plate and it appears as though McKenry is able to swipe Lugo's leg well before he reaches the plate.
Lugo tells the story differently however, saying simply, "I didn't feel a tag." Despite his comments after the game his reaction immediately following the play show that he assumed he was out, but Lugo has been around long enough to know that you back the umpire when he makes a call in your favor.
ESPN's Buster Olney tweeted after the play, "If there was ever an argument for five-man umpiring crews--with one in the booth, overseeing replay to correct mistakes-- it was just made."
It wouldn't take much to have a fifth umpire in a replay booth in the press box reviewing all close plays in order to assure everyone involved that the calls that were being made on the field were the correct calls. Having the extra umpire would eliminate delays that are common now when the umpires have to review home run calls, because he would have it streaming in front of him and would be able to call down to the field and quickly change a call.
On Wednesday the Pittsburgh Pirates president Frank Coonelly issued a statement regarding the call made by Meals.
"The Pittsburh Pirate organization is extremely disappointed by the way its 19-inning game against the Atlanta Braves ended earlier this morning. The game of baseball and this game in particular, filled with superlative performances by players on both clubs, deserved much better.
"While we cannot begin to understand how umpire Jerry Meals did not see the tag made by Michael McKenry three feet in front of home plate, we do not question the integrity of Mr. Meals. Instead, we know that Mr. Meals' intention was to get the call right. Jerry Meals has been umpiring Major League games for 14 years and has always done so with integrity and professionalism. He got this one wrong."
The Pirates needed this game against the Braves as they are in the hunt for the playoffs for the first time in 19 years and they need every win they can get in the closely fought National League Central where they are tied with the Milwaukee Brewers and the St. Louis Cardinals. The last thing that Pittsburgh needed was to lose a close game in extra innings, let alone on a blown call.
After the Pirates filed their complaint with Major League Baseball, Joe Torre the executive vice president of baseball operations for the MLB released a statement on the call and its subsequent impact.
"Unfortunately, it appears that the call was missed, as Jerry Meals acknowledged after the game. Many swipe tags are not applied to the runner with solid contact, but the tag was applied and the game should have remained tied. I have spoken with Jerry, who is a hard-working, respected umpire, and no one feels worse than him. We know that this is not a product of a lack of effort.
"Having been the beneficiary of calls like this and having been on the other end in my experience as a player and as a manager, I have felt that this has always been a part of our game. As a member of the Commissioner's Special Committee for On-Field Matters, 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. 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."
Although many may agree with Torre on replay, some will continue to call for replay on all plays, but the human element does indeed have a place in baseball. While the addition of a fifth umpire to the officiating crews to handle replays would greatly benefit the game, he should not make a call on every play in the field. While he may review each play made a change should only be made if a manager issues a challenge of an umpire's call.
Similar to the NFL the challenge system in the MLB should be limited to prevent abuse by the managers, limiting each team to only one challenge a game should help to clean up any mistakes made in the field while maintaining the feel of the game. That being said, something does need to change and baseball does need to embrace replay for the improvement of the game.