It was an absolutely atrocious call by the home plate umpire, one of the worst you'll ever see in a baseball game.
The pathetic call ended a remarkable 19-inning, 6-hour and 39-minute game between the Pirates and Braves just before 2 a.m. Wednesday, and it was a shame for both teams that the memorable contest had to end in that fashion.
But it's mostly a shame for the Pirates, who lost, 4-3, and dropped out of first place in the NL Central.
Pirates catcher Michael McKenry places the tag on Braves runner Julio Lugo a couple of feet in front of the plate, but umpire Jerry Meals ruled Lugo was safe with the winning run in the 19th inning.
The blown call was the talk of the sports world all day Wednesday, with umpire Jerry Meals getting blasted far and wide by fans and media for his game-deciding mistake.
Maybe the Pirates eventually would have lost anyway. But to lose in that fashion is downright inexcusable.
Meals robbed the Bucs and deserves to face some sort of punishment from Major League Baseball for his complete and utter ineptitude on the call, although that's not likely to happen.
He may go unpunished by the league, but the world let Meals have it as he became the butt of jokes across the Internet and social media.
There's a fantastically entertaining hashtag thread on Twitter called #JerryMealssaysitssafe in which people are making outrageous statements that are funny, witty or mean-spirited but saying they're OK because Meals says so. Some examples:
* "Casey Anthony can baby sit my kids because #JerryMealssaysitssafe" from Twitter user @crzy_erinnoelle.
* Or this one that's painful to Pirates fans: "#JerryMealssaysitssafe for Sid Bream to run on Barry Bonds" from @TedMcClelland.
Meals' mistake wasn't as egregious as umpire Jim Joyce costing pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game on a blown call at first base last year, but it was still a historically bad call.
If you haven't seen the replays, here's what happened:
The Braves had runners at second and third with one out in the bottom of the 19th inning. Braves relief pitcher Scott Proctor was batting and hit a ball to Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez.
The runner from third, Julio Lugo, broke for the plate, and Alvarez fired a strike to catcher Michael McKenry. The throw beat Lugo by three steps, and McKenry blocked the plate and swiped a tag on Lugo's leg.
He was out.
No doubt about it.
It was obvious watching the replays, and MLB acknowledged that Wednesday afternoon when vice president for baseball operations Joe Torre wrote in a statement "the call was missed."
Even the runner, Lugo, knew he was out because he didn't celebrate or anything of the sort.
Inexplicably, Meals signaled safe, stunning the Pirates on the field and anyone who had been watching the marathon game all night.
"I saw the tag, but he looked like he ole'd him and I called him safe for that," Meals told the media in Atlanta after the game. "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."
He needs to get his eyes checked because it happened right in front of him.
Umpires are human, and they make mistakes. Anyone who follows baseball knows and accepts this.
In this case, Meals simply blew it.
The umpire had a tough night as his strike zone was all over the place. He called a couple of borderline pitches strikes on Atlanta's Nate McLouth, and when McLouth argued the second one, he and Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez were both ejected.
The fans in Atlanta booed Meals heavily all night, which may or may not have affected his judgment.
Whatever the case, Meals will have to live with knowing he made a very high-profile blunder, and regardless of whatever else he does in his career, he will always be remembered for that play.
If it had been just any game in another season that the Pirates were already out of contention, this probably wouldn't be as big of a deal, particularly on the national level. It was, after all, just one game in late July.
But it was a wild 19-inning game, plus it happened to a franchise that has endured 18 consecutive losing years. Finally, after all that, the club is having a magical season and entered play Tuesday tied for first place in the NL Central. There is a legitimate chance this team could actually take the division, so every game is huge.
It's still too early to tell if the Bucs can hang around in the division race the rest of the way. They have a lackluster offense, and the pitching staff may not be able to keep up its stellar work for two more months.
But, for the sake of argument, if the team does stick around and loses the division by one game, then what happened early Wednesday morning will never be forgotten by the franchise's long-suffering fans.
Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. He can be reached at 949-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.