It took six hours and 39 minutes for the Pirates to suffer one of their most heartbreaking losses in franchise history.
For a team that is good enough at beating themselves, the last thing the Pirates needed was the boys in blue giving their opponent an assist. But that’s what may have happened in what would be the longest game in franchise history.
After 19 innings of tied baseball, with the game at 3-3, a one out walk and single off reliever Daniel McCutchen put the Braves in position to take the lead. McCutchen, who was originally supposed to have the night off, was throwing for the sixth straight inning.
Next at bat was Braves’ pitcher Scott Proctor, who had to bat for himself because the team was out of relievers. When he made the right pitch, McCutchen got the ground ball to Alvarez he was hoping for.
With what looked like a perfectly executed relay to home, catcher Michael McKenry seemingly dragged his glove across Julio Lugo’s right leg as he began his slide a half foot from the plate.
“The throw to the plate and they got ‘em,” Pirates announcer Greg Brown said. But then, in a shock to everyone, Meals waved his arms safe and ended the game.
Both McKenry and Lugo looked up at him in shock. Within moments Hurdle was on the field, irate and going through twelve different shades of red as he berated Meals for the call. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t change a thing.
"There’s always controversial calls that are really, really close," Pirates Pitcher Jeff Karstens, who had started the game hours earlier, said to Pirates.com. "But I’ve never seen anything that bad. I don’t really have a comment for it. Maybe he just didn’t want to be here anymore.”
That’s pretty much the impression most people had. It was 19 innings of high-level, playoff type baseball that just ended the wrong way. But the loss wasn’t just another tally in the L-column.
Since that call, the Bucs have gone 1-5 and slipped to third in the division, five and half games behind the Milwaukee Brewers. Although they’d win one more game against the Braves, their momentum seemed shot as they headed to Philadelphia and got swept by their cross-state rivals.
While they took some serious hits on their record over the last week, they did make some additions to their roster.
As the trade deadline approached its final hours, the Pirates first move came when they dealt Class A first baseman Aaron Baker to the Orioles for first baseman Derrek Lee.
Lee wouldn’t join the team until Sunday night, and his first start came against one of his former clubs last night – the Chicago Cubs. It didn’t take long for him to show Pittsburgh what he’s all about.
Brought in to bring some fire to the Pittsburgh offense, Lee showed just exactly why manager Clint Hurdle chose him when he crushed two home runs in his Pirates debut.
Unfortunately for the Pirates, his efforts weren’t enough to prevent the team’s fourth straight loss and their ninth in the last 12 games. Even worse, the division leading Brewers have now won seven straight games and are beginning to pull away with the division lead.
The Bucs other major addition, Ryan Ludwick, who was put in the lineup behind Lee at the 5 spot, didn’t have quite the night he was hoping for.
After waking up at 4 a.m. in San Diego, Ludwick got to Pittsburgh and fought through his exhaustion to go 0-3 with a walk.
"It was a long day," Ludwick, who arrived at PNC Park about two hours before first pitch, said to Pirates.com. "I was excited, though. I was running on pure adrenaline. I had a lot of fun today. Obviously, it didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to as a team, but the first day was very enjoyable."
For now, the Pirates will have to lean on their new additions and hope the offense begins to find their rhythm. With the division lead growing further away, things will have to start clicking soon if the Bucs want to make their run.