ATLANTA -- It's rare to witness a game that lasts this long. It will be even rarer to see another marathon contest conclude in such an unpredictable manner.
For nearly 19 full innings, the Braves and Pirates waged a fierce battle at Turner Field on Tuesday night and had no reason to believe the game would end with the last reliever in the Atlanta bullpen producing what seemed to be a routine grounder, until home-plate umpire Jerry Meals made a controversial call.
When Meals ruled that Pirates catcher Michael McKenry missed Julio Lugo as he slid toward the plate, a shocked and fatigued group of Braves celebrated a 4-3, 19-inning victory by racing to surround Scott Proctor, who silenced his critics with three scoreless innings and also put the game-ending grounder in play.
"It was a big, gutsy win for the team," Proctor said, as he and his teammates milled around the clubhouse, attempting to digest what they had just experienced.
Across the way, in the visitors' clubhouse, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle was attempting to control the emotions he understandably displayed after Meals ruled that McKenry missed the tag after clearly receiving third baseman Pedro Alvarez's throw before Lugo neared the plate.
"You'd like to see the game finished by the players, win or lose," Hurdle said. "And for it to end that way is as disappointing as it gets in a game. We had every player in the game laying it out there. Two pitchers in the bullpen threw over 80 pitches. For the game to end that way, it's really too bad. The game deserves better than that."
Unfortunately for the Braves, Brian McCann exited in the 10th inning with a strained left oblique muscle and will be placed on the disabled list. When David Ross entered in the 10th inning, the Braves had no remaining position players on their bench.
This six-hour, 39-minute game was the longest in terms of time in the history of both franchises. The last time the Braves played 19 innings was during a 19-inning win over the Cardinals on May 14, 1988.
"We had some opportunities, and they made some pitches," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "I'm glad this is over."
Gonzalez's night ended when he and Nate McLouth were ejected in the ninth inning for arguing balls and strikes with Meals. Unfortunately for the plate umpire, there will not be many who remember the complaints he received, mainly from Braves players, about his strike zone.
In many ways, this game ended in the most unlikely manner. The decisive rally was fueled by a one-out single from Jordan Schafer, who talked about the possibility of going on the disabled list before the game, then played the final 11 innings with discomfort caused by a chip fracture in his left middle finger.
With runners at second and third and one out, Proctor came to the plate with the confidence you'd expect from a veteran reliever who entered the evening without having taken an at-bat since 2007. But after rolling an 0-2 changeup toward Alvarez, he experienced the same celebratory reaction reserved for players after delivering walk-off hits.
When McKenry received Alvarez's throw, he swiped his glove toward a sliding Lugo and seemingly made contact for the second out. But Meals felt McKenry had missed the Braves infielder and consequently faced the wrath of Hurdle as he attempted to leave the field.
"He got the call right," Lugo said. "I'm being honest. I didn't feel him tag me."
Away from the dugout, Gonzalez had a view that showed Proctor had stumbled out of the box. Thus, after the attempted tag was made, he feared the possibility that the Pirates could turn an inning-ending double play.
Instead, the Braves' skipper found himself able to celebrate the gutty effort by long reliever Cristhian Martinez, who limited the Pirates to two hits over six scoreless innings. He had built his endurance while lasting at least five innings in each of his four starts with Triple-A Gwinnett this month.
"It's over with, and we got the win. I tell you what, for me, the MVP was Cristhian Martinez," Gonzalez said. " We were lucky that he had thrown. I think we could have taken him all the way up to 100 pitches because he had thrown in Gwinnett. He did one heck of a job."
Once Martinez exited after the 16th inning, Braves fans weren't too excited to see Proctor, who had allowed 13 earned runs in the 7 2/3 previous innings this month. But the veteran reliever added to the evening's unpredictability by holding the Pirates scoreless over the final three innings.
"Right there, with the way we've been playing, having some rough times, to come out there and put together a good team win like that is awesome," Proctor said after helping the Braves win for just the third time in their past eight games.
Before the crazy finish, neither team had scored since the Braves erased Tommy Hanson's early deficit by scoring three runs with two outs in the third inning. One of the key two-out hits came from Dan Uggla, who extended his career-best hitting streak to 17 games and also moved his batting average above .200 for approximately five hours of the game.
But while going hitless in his final six at-bats, Uggla's average dropped to .199. As for Martin Prado, he went in nine at-bats and dropped his batting average from .275 to .268.
But when players and fans look back on this game, the primary thing they'll remember is the call that ended an evening filled with surprises and memorable events.
"I just started going back to second base and then I saw [Lugo] start jumping up and down," Schafer said. "I was like, 'Wait, what happened?' Then I saw them come out to argue. I was like, 'Oh, I guess we won.' I thought he was out. But I'll take it."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.