If you want to know why we play so many games in Major League Baseball, Tuesday night's contests between the Astros and Cardinals and Braves and Pirates will give you the answer. In Atlanta, the Braves won on a call that was clearly missed. Both of those teams are in contention for the playoffs. In St. Louis, the Cardinals needed the win much more than the hapless, luckless Astros, and they got it on a call that was missed twice, the second time by three umpires!

It was the bottom of the 19th in Atlanta. Julio Lugo tried to score on a ground ball that Procter hit to the left of Pirates third baseman, Pedro Alvarez. Alvarez threw home and catcher Michael McKenry applied the tag on Lugo about four feet in front of the plate. The replay was unequivocal. Lugo was out. Umpire Jerry Meals called him safe and the game was over, except for the argument that ensued when Bucs manager Clint Hurdle sprinted from the dugout to confront Meals.

After he looked at the replay, Meals said, "I'm guessing he might have got him, but when it happened, I didn't see the tag." He is the only one on the planet who, after seeing the replay, had to guess.

That call reminded me of another that occurred on the last day of the season in Los Angeles. The Dodgers and Astros were playing that day and the home-plate umpire was Dick Stello. It was a draggy game and Stello told several players to hurry up because he had a plane to catch. Let's face it. After 162 games, we were all ready for this one to end, one way or another.

But we (the Astros) weren't ready for it to end the way it did. I can't remember all the players involved, but the scene comes to mind as if it were yesterday. The Dodgers had a man on second with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and the score was tied. The batter stroked a single to right. The throw beat the runner by as much as it beat Lugo last night. But the runner never got past the catcher. Johnny Edwards blocked the plate and was lying on top of the runner four feet from the dish when Stello called him safe. Stello didn't stick around for the argument. He had a plane to catch, and he bolted. I can still see Edwards and our manager Harry Walker chasing him toward the backstop. But Stello got through the gate behind home plate before they could stop him, and that's the way the season ended.

They didn't use to review any calls back then, but they do now. In the first inning of the Astros/Cardinals game last night, Albert Pujols hit a shot that hit the padding at the top of the fence in St. Louis and caromed directly to Michael Bourn. The relay was so fast that it is unlikely the third-base coach would send the runner, Skip Schumaker, home with one out. But the second-base umpire, crew chief Jim Reynolds, called it a home run. Bourn came charging in to challenge the call. Manager Brad Mills challenged it too, and three umpires reviewed the video. While they were doing that, the play was shown from several angles on the telecast. The ball clearly hit the padding and came directly back into Bourn's glove. It never hit the ground and it never hit anything behind the wall.

After reviewing the replay, Reynolds said, "We saw the ball ricochet, top of the wall, concrete, come back." He said that there has to be clear evidence that the call on the field was wrong. That three umpires can't see what everyone else saw, it's remarkable. But there was even more evidence and I'm not sure the umpires saw it. A short walk into center field would have revealed a baseball-sized smudge on the padding. The view from above shows the padding to be even with the concrete. So the ball couldn't possibly hit the concrete directly.

It was a two-run homer and the Cardinals won the game 3-1. There is no way to know if Schumaker could have scored on Lance Berkman's subsequent fly ball to shallow left or even that Brett Myers would have thrown Berkman the same pitch with men on second and third with one out. The Redbirds might have scored in the first anyway, but we'll never know. But what's clear is that the Astros had eight more innings to score themselves and could only manage one run. The what-ifs are supposed to be accounted for by playing 162 games. The breaks, good and bad, are supposed to even out.

But even without replays, I saw a call that was missed by an even wider margin than any of the above. It happened in an exhibition game in the Astrodome before the first regular season game in 1965. Astros first baseman Walt Bond hit a ball off the top of the fence in right center. At first the umpires called it a home run. Then they changed their mind and called him out of the dugout to third base. Then the third-base umpire called him out, claiming that Yankees third baseman Clete Boyer had tagged him out. In this instance, the replay came in the form of a photograph in the newspaper the next day that showed Boyer, with the ball in his hand, standing about ten feet away from the bag as Bond was rounding it on his way home.

In 1985, Danny Darwin had an excellent year for the Brewers and finished 8-18. "They say it all evens out in the end," Darwin said. "Maybe it'll be in a slow-pitch softball game somewhere down the line."

That's the way it feels when it happens to you. But in the vast majority of the cases, 162 games is the great equalizer.