At 1:50 Wednesday morning, Major League Baseball unofficially discovered its third stooge of umpiring - Jerry Meals joining Don Denkinger and Jim Joyce as the three most maligned umps in MLB's 140-year history.
In case you've missed every one of the gazillion replays running on CNN, ESPN and every other cable news outlet the past 28 hours, Meals' stupendously terrible call at home plate in the 19th inning of Tuesday night's Atlanta Braves-Pittsburgh Pirates game made the Braves 4-3 winners in a contest that probably should have gone at least 20 innings.
In ruling Atlanta's Julio Lugo safe despite everyone else inside Turner Field knowing that Pirates catcher Michael McKenry had tagged him out three feet before he reached home plate, Meals did much more than cost Pittsburgh a crucial game in its unexpected run at the NL Central pennant.
It also once more ramped up the argument over the need for instant replay in baseball. Especially after Meals released the following statement through MLB on Wednesday evening:
"After coming into the locker room, I reviewed the incident through our videos ... and after seeing one of them, on one particular replay, I was able to see Lugo's pant leg move ever so slightly when the swipe tag was attempted by McKenry. That's telling me that was incorrect in my decision and that he should have been ruled out and not safe."
If nothing else, that explanation was far better than the one he gave 40 minutes after the game ended, when Meals said of his call: "I saw the tag, but he looked like he oléd [whiffed] him, and I called him safe for that. 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."
Then again, if Meals can get an overnight copyright on "oléd" he might not have to work another baseball game for the rest of his life.
Certainly, the 14-year veteran deserves high marks for honesty and decency. And unlike Joyce - whose similar mistake a year ago cost Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game - or Denkinger (whose blown call in the sixth game of the 1985 World Series may have cost St. Louis a world championship), the Pirates have more than two months to bounce back.
If this single loss costs them the NL Central, they probably weren't good enough to win it anyway.
But that doesn't make it right. Or make the Pirates wrong to file a complaint about the call on Wednesday afternoon with the commissioner's office.
Pittsburgh fans just shouldn't expect the league to erase the outcome and replay the game from Meals' error forward, the Braves sending Martin Prado to the plate with two out in the bottom of the 19th.
As Joe Torre, MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations, said late Wednesday, "Most in the game recognize that the human element always will be part of baseball and instant replay can never replace all judgment calls by umpires."
True enough. And even replay can occasionally prove inconclusive. But much as tennis allows a certain number of challenges per match, baseball should have a similar system for managers. Maybe two or three a night.
Given that this one was already 19 innings old - the longest in Pirates history - Pittsburgh skipper Clint Hurdle might have already used his challenges before Meals' miscue.
But if the chief aim of the game is to "get it right," surely some form of replay beyond checking to make sure a home run was really a home run is warranted.
To do otherwise would seem to support the argument that MLB has once more "oléd" on what's best for the game.