Rabu, 27 Juli 2011

Embrace the controversy, Pirates, and speak up!

Dejan Kovacevic's Blog

A place to talk Pittsburgh Sports

July 27, 2011

It’s not enough for Clint Hurdle to speak out after the grievously, glaringly missed call by home plate umpire Jerry Meals this morning in Atlanta, though he did well to say, “This game deserved way better than that.”

It’s not enough for the Pirates’ players to do it, either, though Jeff Karstens did well to say, “For some reason, somebody didn’t want us to play anymore. So the game was ended.”

Here, look for yourself if you didn’t stay up that late.

And if that’s not enough, try this still photo from the Associated Press …

Managers and players complain about calls all the time. This one demands much, much more.

No, a team can’t protest a judgment call. But the Pirates had better protest.

You had better do it even louder than broadcaster Greg Brown did in shouting, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” And you had better do it with the franchise’s most prominent voices.

Let them know the Pirates are through getting kicked around.

Let them know that the team, their players and their fans don’t deserve to have their stomachs turned inside out so unjustly, so unfairly.

Let’s hear it from Neal Huntington.

Let’s hear it from Frank Coonelly. He came from MLB’s office and, maybe because of that, has not been critical at all regarding the unfairness in travel, scheduling, being in the Central Division and the lack of an interleague rival. I know his allegiance is to the Pirates, and today is the day to display it.

Bob Nutting could speak up, too. When the Penguins felt an injustice had been done by the NHL this past February with that fiasco on Long Island, Mario Lemieux spoke up and rocked the hockey world. Nutting is no Lemieux, of course, and I’m not comparing. But nothing gets the sporting world’s attention like an owner.

Let some good come out of this. Let the baseball world know the Pirates have earned their way back to respectability and that they’ve earned respect from the people who administrate the game. Yeah, they were kicked around — rightly, fairly — as the worst team in baseball for nearly two decades. I did a lot of that kicking myself. But enough’s enough.

If that sounds like I’m oversimplifying Meals’ call as a matter of snubbing the Pirates, hey, so be it. Good luck in trying to come up with a better explanation: Maybe Meals simply tired out from the six hours-plus behind the plate. Meals really is that terrible of an umpire to miss a call like that so badly. This wasn’t bang-bang. It was bang-nothing. There was a tag, then Julio Lugo actually got up, and a full second or so elapsed before he tapped his foot on home plate. It was patently obvious he had been tagged, patently obvious he was out.

There are missed calls, and there is outright incompetence. If this doesn’t cross into the latter, I’m not sure when a call does.

And if there was any fiber of Meals being that was moved by which team was being slighted or even the late hour, then he deserves to be suspended, though that obviously would be impossible to prove.

There’s nothing the Pirates can do about that. Meals will be right back on the field tonight at third base — within convenient earshot of the visitors’ dugout! — and I’m sure he’ll stay in the umpiring fold forever. If an egregiously awful umpire such as Bill Hohn can keep his job, for example, you can take it to the bank that Meals will retire in blue.

But there is plenty the Pirates can do to capitalize.

Hurdle and his players can use this as part of their continuing us-against-the-world attitude. No one would begrudge them that.

And a loud, though not out-of-line statement about the franchise’s feeling on this missed call could serve the double-mission of letting Hurdle and the players know they have their backs (even if they haven’t brought in any help yet), and of letting baseball know that the Pirates are going to fight back, on and off the field, at an institutional level. Let the baseball world and umpires know that the days of John Russell playing turtle in the dugout are gone.

And hey, as long as the Pirates have that megaphone the next 24 hours or so, feel free to add to the pleas for additional replay. Tell Bud Selig how you really feel about preserving that precious “human element” in the game. Tell the commissioner to go ask Jason Grilli and Daniel McCutchen how offended they would be if there was a mechanism to get that call right.

Speak up, Pirates!

The podium is yours. Make it count.

A long night, an awful call, a Braves win led by Scott Proctor

4:44 am July 27, 2011, by Jeff Schultz

ATLANTA - JULY 26: Julio Lugo(notes) #28 of the Atlanta Braves scores the game-winning run in the 19th inning against Michael McKenry(notes) #55 of the Pittsburgh Pirates at Turner Field on July 26, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Jordan Schafer looked at the clock. It was 2:15 a.m. and he still wasn’t showered.

“I would’ve like to have been asleep a couple of hours ago,” the Braves center fielder said. “But it obviously makes it better that we won.”

Is that what just happened?

One of the longest and strangest games in baseball history ended at 1:50 a.m. Wednesday. The Braves defeated Pittsburgh 4-3 in 19 innings.

Time of game: 6 hours, 39 minutes. If seemed like if it had gone much longer, shadows from the sunrise would have started affecting the hitters.

There appeared to be less than 5,000 fans at Turner Field still left from the original crowd of 22,036. Maybe they were thinking the longer the game went, there was a decent chance they would receive a free continental breakfast.

Or maybe they just wanted a story to tell their grandchildren one day.

Or maybe they figured they might get a chance to pitch. I mean, if Scott Proctor got a chance to pitch, could it be that long before team scouts began roaming the aisles for relief help?

This game went so long that catcher Brian McCann left after nine innings with a strained oblique, the Braves announced he would go on the 15-day disabled list and by the end of the game you wondered if he was healed and eligible to be activated again.

Here are some things you missed while sleeping:

♦ The numbers: 41 players combined for 158 plate appearances and faced — ready for this? — 608 pitches from 15 pitchers. The understatement of the day came from manager Fredi Gonzalez (who actually had been ejected with Nate McLouth back in the ninth): “Both teams are going to have to push their starters a little tomorrow.” No. Really?

♦ The spectator: It was just before 1 a.m. when Proctor – possibly the most lampooned Braves player since Greg Norton – became a trending topic on Twitter. Why? Simply because he was the Braves’ last non-starting pitcher left. He sat in the bullpen watching Tommy Hanson, Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters, Craig Kimbel — Hah! The closer entered in only the ninth inning! – Scott Linebrink, George Sherrill and Christian Martinez pitch. Wonder how many games of solitaire he played?

The thought occurred that the Braves were trying to avoid bringing Proctor in, given he started the night with a 7.36 ERA. (The fact Martinez threw an improbable six shutout innings of relief, a relative “quality start,” helped.) Any way, Proctor’s extending viewing became a running online gag. When told later he was trending on Twitter, Proctor said, “I was what?” You were a hot topic. “Oh, I’m sure. I’m not very well liked right now.”

♦ The absurdity: When Proctor finally got into the game, he walked his first batter. But he got the last laugh. He not only pitched two shutout innings and got the win, he had the game-winning RBI. Somehow. We were witness to the worst call by an official in the history of professional sports. (Hey, it’s late. I’m punchy. I’m entitled to make this declaration.) With Schafer on first and Julio Lugo on third, Proctor sent a ground ball to Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez. He stumbled as he took a step toward first. He joked later, “I forgot where first base was. I’m used to running to the dugout.” Alvarez fielded the ball and threw home to Michael McKenry. Lugo clearly was out by 10 feet — except on umpire Jerry Meals’ home planet. Meals called him safe. Then Clint Hurdle’s head exploded.

♦ Proctor was mobbed by teammates. It’s not the first time he has been in the middle of a mob scene. It’s just the first time people weren’t carrying torches and pitchforks.

♦ Some amusing commentary: This is from Braves general manager Frank Wren (following an eye roll and a smile): “I wasn’t close enough to make a call.”

This is from Lugo (between smiles): “He made an appreciation call.” A what? “He appreciated whether I was safe or out. I was safe.”

This is from Eric Hinske, as he walked past Proctor: “That guy can hit!”

This is from Schafer: “I started going back to second base. Then I saw Julio jumping up and down and I was like, ‘Wait, what happened? Oh. I guess we won.’ I thought he was out. But we’ll take it.”

This is from McKenry to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: “I was kind of baffled. I didn’t know what to do or what to say.”

This is from Meals, who possibly was suffering from dehydration, heat prostration or dementia, to pool reporter Mark Bowman of MLB.com: “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.”

Excuse me, but: “He oléd him”?

♦ One more number: Martin Prado would like to forget this one. He went 0-for-9. The game ended with him in the on-deck circle. Fortunately.

♦ Even one more number: The Braves stranded 23 baserunners.

♦ OK, final numbers: Dan Uggla has a 17-game hitting streak. But after singling in his first two at-bats to reach and pass .200 for the first time since May 16, he went hitless with a walk in his next seven plate appearances. He finished at 2-for-8 and saw his season average drop from .202 in the third inning to .199. Millions of little children had gone to sleep thinking Uggla would finally end a day hitting over .200.

With that, I’m going home now. It’s 4:44 in the morning. Traffic should be clear.

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