If it weren’t for the ninth-inning home run from Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann, we would have no idea. We wouldn’t know that our Greatest American Hero was within our midst, umpiring games right under our nose. Sure, McCann will be lauded for tying the game off Houston Astros closer Mark Melancon, with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth. And for hitting a two-run home run in the bottom of the 11th to give the Braves a 3-1 victory on Tuesday afternoon. But the real hero was behind the plate.
Alfonso Marquez: America’s greatest hero.
That’s Matt Downs sticking his elbow out, trying to reach base. You can’t blame him -- umpires fall for this trick 99.999% of the time. But Marquez was resolute, explicitly forbidding Downs from taking his base. He had the law on his side, too:
The batter becomes a runner and is entitled to first base without liability to be put out ... unless ... (2) The batter makes no attempt to avoid being touched by the ball
Marquez showed great restraint when he refrained from pulling a rule book from his vest pocket to proselytize loudly and angrily. This was his moment to make things right, to correct the sins of his peers and uphold the beautiful rules of this beautiful game. As is, he just became a beacon of righteousness and a true American hero because I hate when umpires ignore that rule.
Oh, and there was a baseball game, too.
Braves starter Derek Lowe and Astros starter Wandy Rodriguez matched each other inning for inning in a pitchers’ duel, with the only mistake made by either pitcher being Lowe's low-and-away sinker that Astros first baseman Brett Wallace drove to the opposite field for a solo home run. Lowe was finished after seven innings, allowing one run with four strikeouts and no walks. Meanwhile, Rodriguez pitched eight scoreless innings, walking two and striking out six.
That lone run looked like it would hold up when closer Mark Melancon had two outs and no one on base against pinch-hitter Brian McCann, but the day off for the catcher turned into a career day, as McCann took the pitch just over the center field wall to send the game into extra innings. In the 11th inning, with one out and Eric Hinske on base, McCann ended the game, taking Jeff Fulchino deep on a high fastball.
The Braves travel to Arizona tomorrow, while the Astros travel to St. Louis.