Braves Vs. Pirates: Atlanta Wins 19-Inning Marathon, 4-3 On Controversial Call

Tuesday night's game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Atlanta Braves was remarkable even before its bizarre and controversial ending.

Twenty-six innings of scoreless relief between the two teams. A remarkable six-inning, six-strikeout, 88-pitch relief outing by Cristhian Martinez. Five scoreless innings by Daniel McCutchen, until he came out for the 19th. An 0-for-9 performance by Martin Prado. The ejections of Nate McLouth and Fredi Gonzalez. The departure of Brian McCann, heading to the DL after straining an oblique muscle. Jason Grilli stranding seven runners in three scoreless innings. The six-hours-and-39-minutes running time, which made it the longest game in Turner Field history, and the longest game in both the Pirates' and Braves' franchise histories.

Maybe that last sentence is the best explanation for the ending. Maybe home-plate umpire Jerry Meals got tired and decided to take the game into his own hands, Little League-style. Maybe he was delirious. Or maybe there's some other explanation for his game-ending call. Whatever happened, he blew it badly, making a mockery of a hard-fought, historic game.

The Pirates scored twice in the first, on an RBI triple by Neil Walker and a single by Pedro Alvarez. They added a run in the second on an unlikely homer by catcher Michael McKenry off Braves starter Tommy Hanson

It was the last time Pittsburgh would score. The Braves tied the game in the third on an RBI single by Dan Uggla and a two-run single by Jason Heyward, both off starter Jeff Karstens. And that's the last time they would score, too, for about five more hours.

Well before the game became a historically long one, it felt long, with both starters struggling to put batters away. Both Karstens and Hanson were gone by the end of the sixth, and that's when the bullpens took over. And did they ever. Tony Watson, Joe Beimel and Jose Veras finished out the first nine innings for the Pirates, while Eric O'Flaherty, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel pitched for the Braves.

Meals' strike zone was inconsistent throughout, and in the bottom of the ninth, McLouth struck out and began yelling at Meals. His resulting ejection, along with manager Gonzalez's, posed a problem for the Braves, who had already taken left fielder Eric Hinske out of the game and didn't have much left on their bench.

The Braves turned to relievers Scott Linebrink and George Sherrill in the tenth, while the Pirates called on Chris Resop. And then, with no end in sight, the Braves had Cristhian Martinez begin his excellent six-inning relief outing in the 11th. Pittsburgh's Grilli came out in the bottom of the inning, then was replaced by McCutchen in the 14th.

In the 17th, the Braves called on Scott Proctor, who had a well-deserved 7.36 ERA when his outing began. The Pirates couldn't score against him despite loading the bases in the 17th and getting a runner into scoring position in the 18th. Meanwhile, McCutchen kept putting up zeroes.

Until the 19th. Julio Lugo walked with one out. Jordan Schafer singled to put Lugo on third, then moved up to second himself on catcher's indifference. Then Proctor, who was batting only because the Braves were completely at the end of their rope, grounded the ball to third.

The throw came home, and McKenry, standing a foot in front of the plate, had Lugo out by a mile, clearly tagging him with a swipe on the knee as he went by. 

Meals called him safe. It was a completely blown call. There's really nothing else to say about it, and nothing to do except wonder whether Meals knew what he was doing. Pirates fans already obsess over a play at the plate against the Braves back in 1992. If, say, their surprising Cinderella season starts to go south after Wednesday morning, Pirates fans will remember the last play of this game with approximately the same disgust.

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