When the Phillies defeated the Cincinnati Reds 5-4 in 19 innings on May 25-26, the game’s hero was utility inielder Wilson Valdez. Desperate for pitchers, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel called upon Valdez to pitch. Valdez responded to the call, pitching a hitless 19th inning (in the process, receiving an extremely enthusiastic ovation from what remained of the approximately-1 A.M. crowd). When Raul Ibanez’s sacrifice fly gave the Phillies the win in the bottom of the 19th inning, Valdez became the first non-pitcher since 2000 to get credit as a winning pitcher.
While the Phillies’ hero in their 19-inning game was someone who was called upon to perform a task he was not used to, the Pittsburgh Pirates lost a 19-inning game late last night/early this morning to the Atlanta Braves as a result of the inability of home plate umpire Jerry Meals adequately to perform his usual job.
With one out in the bottom of the 19th at Turner Field in Atlanta, the Braves’ Julio Lugo, representing the winning run, was on third base. The Braves’ Scott Proctor hit an easy grounder to Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez. Alvarez threw the ball to Pirates catcher Michael McKenry, who applied a tag well in advance of home plate. However, Jerry Meals inexplicably ruled that McKenry missed the tag when he clearly did not. The botched call gave the Braves a 4-3 win.
Because the St. Louis Cardinals (now 55-48) defeated the hapless Houston Astros 3-1 last night, the Pirates’ (dubious) loss pulled them of a tie for first place and, instead, into third place in the National League’s Central Division. At 53-48, the Pirates are a game behind the Cardinals and also 1/2 game behind the Milwaukee Brewers (55-49 after defeating the Chicago Cubs 3-2 last night).
The mistaken call has implications for the Phillies (who, behind rookie pitching sensation Vance Worley, last night smothered the defending World Champion San Francisco Giants, 7-2): As a result of the Braves’ win, the Phillies, who have baseball’s best record at 65-37, were not able to extend their lead over the Braves in the National League’s East Division from 6 to 7 games.
Meals’s botched call outraged Bill Moritz, a 32-year-old asset manager for the Philadelphia Housing Authorty who lives in Center City Philly but who grew up in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Squirrel Hill.
According to Moritz: “The call in general obviously was terrible. It especially hurts becuase this is a team that has been losing for 18 years and finally is competing. If the Pirates now miss the playoffs by one game, this would be a tragedy.
Despite the umpire’s call, Moritz notes that he “would still never implement instant replay for baseball. Baseball is one of the last pure things I believe we have in this country. I believe in the human element of the game, and I want to keep it the way it is.”
Asked if the call last night might possibly be divine karma for extremely questionable calls by referees that played a major part in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ win in Super Bowl XL over the Seattle Seahawks, Moritz responded: “That’s an interesting question. In general, I feel differently when it’s football. There are so many calls that you almost need instant replay.”
As long-time Pirates fans may understand (albeit with painful associated memories), Moritz added that “at least in the heartbreaking loss vs. the Braves in Game 7 of the playoffs in 1992 [the last year the Pirates had a winning record], no one questioned that Francisco Cabrera legitimately scored.”