Umpire gets rude welcome at PNC Park

| Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2011

Pittsburgh's least-favorite umpire showed his face at PNC Park on Monday night.

Jerry Meals, whose infamously bad call at home plate cost the Pirates in a 19-inning loss at Atlanta three weeks ago, worked first base as the reeling Pirates opened a three-game series with the Cardinals.

A loud chorus of boos greeted the 14-year veteran when the umpiring crew was announced before the game. Meals also declined a pregame interview request through the umpire room manager.

Since Meals' home plate blunder in the marathon 4-3 loss, the Pirates, then six games over .500 and tied for first place, have lost 15 of 18 heading into last night's game.

They have fallen into fourth place, seven games under .500 and 13 games behind the streaking first-place Brewers.

Many Pirates' faithful point the finger at Meals for triggering the collapse, but the players have minimized the epic missed call.

"I don't blame the losing stretch on anybody but ourselves," second baseman Neil Walker said. "We got ourselves into the position to play winning baseball, and we've gotten ourselves into the position that we are today."

Meals' botched call — catcher Michael McKenry tagged Julio Lugo three feet from home plate but Meals called him safe to end the longest game in Pirates' history at six hours, 39 minutes — resulted in a national social media firestorm and threatening phone calls to his home in Perry Township, Ohio.

The play raised calls for instant replay in baseball, and countless jokes erupted on a Twitter thread, jerrymealssaysitssafe, in which dangerous, ill-advised activities were considered risk-free because Meals said they were.

Right fielder Garrett Jones understands why many Pirates' fans blame Meals for the team's recent struggles.

"I definitely could see how you could say that," Jones said. "That game was a tough loss, the way we lost. It's hard to pinpoint it on that one game, but the way things have fallen in place, it does seem that way."

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said there was no correlation between the August swoon and the marathon loss that ended at nearly 2 a.m. on Wednesday, July 27.

"That's not fair," Hurdle said, "and that's all I've got to say."

Meals, 49 and a father of five, could build some goodwill. Meals, who was born in Butler, is scheduled to visit Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh this morning — along with fellow umpires Dale Scott, CB Bucknor and Dan Iassogna — to meet with children coping with cancer, injury and illness.

When Meals hands a stuffed bear in a pint-sized Pirates uniform to a young cancer patient, his terrible call probably won't seem so important.

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