Wednesday, July 27, 2011

He Called Him Safe?

It was 1:50 AM on July 27th, 2011.

Just in case you wanted to document the worst call in baseball history.

With all due respect to the Jim Joyce/Armando Galarraga perfect game debacle, when it comes to the ease of the call, umpire Jerry Meals rendition of what really happened between Mike McKenry and Julio Lugo borders on the hallucinogenic.

Before I post a link to a YouTube video that Major League Baseball will take down in the next thirty seconds, let me set the scene for those who drifted off to peaceful slumber.

Bottom of the 19th. Braves runners on second and third. One out. Relief pitcher Scott Proctor takes the plate for only the second time since 2007. Immediately goes down 0-2 to Pirates workhorse reliever Daniel McCutchen. McCutchen delivers, Proctor grounds to a charging Pedro Alvarez at third base. 850 year old Atlanta Brave Julio Lugo makes a beeline for home plate. Alvarez comes with a strong and accurate throw. McKenry receives it and swipes at Julio Lugo. Then all hell breaks loose.

Now okay, there's a lot going on in this 1 minute, 48 second video:

1. Most importantly, you can see the angles of the tag. The definitive one is at about 1:30 of the video. You can see McKenry making the swipe, and Julio Lugo's pantleg reverberating from the contact of McKenry's mitt. If ANYONE felt as if Lugo actually was safe, that angle puts the axe to that idea.

2. Clint Hurdle turned a color that I didn't know a human being could. It was almost a blackish purple hue. Even in my stunned disbelief at what I had just seen, I was readying myself to call an ambulance for him.

3. How bad do you feel for Mike McKenry? To catch 19 innings and over 300 pitches to have it end like that? Ouch.

4. If Lyle Overbay doesn't hold back Daniel McCutchen, he probably eats Jerry Meals.

5. This isn't in the video, but I had seen it last night (and had it confirmed through a billion tweets), that Neil Walker was actually signing autographs for fans immediately after the game. That's insane. Neil Walker, you are without a doubt a better person than I am. I would have been punching holes in anything I could. What a class act.

6. Scott Proctor does the world's most inexplicable belly flop, absolutely ensuring that if Meals calls out Lugo, McKenry can lob the ball to Overbay at first to complete the double play and get out of the inning.

We should have a bit of perspective here. Yes, the Pirates lost. If Meals ends up making the right call, maybe the Pirates win, maybe they don't. But the fact is that they deserved to find out. While the Pirates lost the game, the true losers were MLB fans as a whole. It was an instant classic. a six-and-a-half hour epic that featured game-saving plays and two of the best bullpen showings in baseball history. It didn't deserve to end that way. Fans should have either been treated to Joel Hanrahan closing out a Pirates win, or a dramatic walk-off hit by Atlanta. Not this. Major League Baseball owes the Pirates an apology, and the Pirates owe Major League Baseball a tongue-lashing.

Just as an additional note, shame on Jerry Meals for the way that he has reacted to his call. Within 30 minutes of Jim Joyce's awful call, he released a statement of contrition, saying that he had simply blown the call. His regretful demeanor and sheer humanness endeared him to fans, and to Armando Galarraga himself. While he still has a chance to do something similar, Jerry Meals is showing no signs of it.

Given the surroundings and circumstance, we will likely look back on this as a turning point in the Pirates season. The Buccos will either harness the "Us vs. Them" mentality and use it to their advantage, or crumble under the weight of fatigue and difficulty of schedule. Only time will tell.

And in just over 8 hours, the Buccos will continue the fight.

If the Pirates weren't "America's Team" at 1:49 AM this morning, they sure are now.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Captain Obvious? Western Conference Shit

I've been hearing about this league called the "Western Conference". Apparently they play hockey just like the East, except three hours later. Not sure who could stay up for that.

Central Division:

Detroit Red Wings:

Captain: Nicklas Lidstrom
Player who should be Captain: Nicklas Lidstrom forever.

If you're wondering who Nick Lidstrom is, get off my blog. The dude is a Captain among Captains. Would he have steered the Titanic into an iceberg? No. He'd have broken the iceberg with a wrist shot.

Nashville Predators:

Captain: Shea Weber
Player who should be Captain: Shea Weber

Don't care if it wasn't for Nashville, if you shoot the puck through the net, you own the ice. Period.

Chicago Blackhawks:

Captain: Jonathan Toews
Player who should be Captain: Patrick Sharp

I'm a sucker for players like Patrick Sharp. He's not as talented as Toews (though he's no slouch, as his 34 goals last year will attest), but he's far more mature and has a great presence on the ice. He can play the tough minutes and is willing to mix it up with anybody. Sharp is a free agent after this season, and if the Blackhawks let him go, then they're idiots.

(Aside: I bet there are at least 45 "Sharp-Dressed Man" jokes in that article.)

St. Louis Blues:

Captain: None.
Player who should be Captain: David Backes

Backes is a true pain-in-the-ass. Which is pretty much a necessity if you're going to be a decent captain. For a forward, he's a fairly menacing force at 6-3, 230 lbs. The kind of guy who stands in front of the net, pistol-whips the goalie and puts the puck home. With a youthful pool of talent growing around him, Backes is the logical choice to lead the Blues in this tough division.

Columbus Blue Jackets:

Captain: Rick Nash
Player who should be Captain: Dear God, somebody get Rick Nash out of Columbus

Seriously, the dude is wasted there. They don't have anyone around him, aside from Plum native R.J. Umberger, pictured below:

Only 5 percent of my readers will get that joke. Oooh, RJ!

I'm being real though. Somebody needs to go to Columbus and save Rick Nash.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Silence is Broken

It's been way to hot to post anything.

Somehow, the Pittsburgh Pirates have been hotter.

In what seems like a two-month fever dream, the Pirates have re-kindled a passion for baseball that hasn't existed for a long time in Pittsburgh. Since Memorial Day, the Pirates are 27-17. Their 51st win of the season came on July 19th. Last year, their 51st win came on September 19th. There are more mind-boggling statistics, but as the great Dodgers Announcer Vin Scully once said, "Statistics are used like a drunk uses a lamp post, for support, not illumination".

So allow me to waylay statistics, and tell you why I really think the Pirates are winning.

^This guy.

Hurdle isn't running away with the Manager of the Year award. He's taking what we used to know as the Manager of the Year, and kicking it in the balls. Hurdle and his staff (Pitching coach Ray Searage deserves his own award for making Jeff Karstens look like Greg Maddux) have marched their way into Pittsburgh and completely changed the atmosphere and attitude of this organization. Ever since Jim Leyland, every manager from Gene Lamont to John Russell looked as if they would rather be managing a Taco Bell. Simply going through the motions like a 16 year old doing chores.

Not Clint Hurdle though.

He's been the breath of fresh air that hasn't existed in Pittsburgh since the early 90s. He's an intense, yet jovial and portly guy who talks fast and chews his gum with such tenacity that you become legitimately concerned about his well-being. Hurdle is exactly the tonic that a young team needs: wielding an incessantly positive attitude while also refusing to except failure. Seriously, when was the last time you remember a Pirate team that has been so fundamentally sound? Talent is one thing, but fundamentals are directly derived from good coaching.

Hurdle is the sole reason why I don't buy into people that say that the Pirates will fade as the season goes on. Yes, the schedule is tough. We play the Brewers about 8,000 times. We play Atlanta, we play Philly, whatever. This is a team that will succeed because Hurdle has them believing that they should. The Buccos see no reason why they can't go up to Miller Park now and take 2 of 3 games. They couldn't care less about how good the Phillies pitching staff is. They only care about playing the best baseball they can.

And in 2011, their best may be good enough.