In a postseason game, one out becomes drastically more important than a regular season game. Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley knew that when he slid hard into second base to break up a double play, breaking the leg of Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada in the process.
The slide was late, but it was not dirty.
Tejada was unable to make the throw to first, Utley was initially called out, later changed to safe after a replay review, and the Dodgers scored four runs in the inning and ended up winning a very important game. That is basically the gist of it.
The controversy surrounds the slide. The Mets and their fans think it’s dirty, the Dodgers and their fans think it was a good, old-fashioned, hard baseball play. There’s been argument all around the baseball world.
Let’s be honest, the slide was late. No doubt about it. But that doesn’t mean it was dirty or illegal. Rule 5.09(a)(13) states that Utley should have been called out for interference if he deliberately went out of the baseline, (basically within arm’s reach of the base), to stop Tejada from making the play. As seen in the replay Utley was certainly in the baseline. The slide was legal.
So why did Utley get suspended for two games?
There’s been countless slides that look an awful lot like this, but none of them resulted in suspension. This season alone Pirates shortstop Jung Ho Kang suffered a season ending injury after Chris Coghlan of the Cubs slid into him to break up a double play. That slide looked way dirtier to me, yet there was no suspension.
This sort of slide has even happened in the postseason before. The Cardinals’ Matt Holliday broke the ankle of Giants’ Marco Scutaro in a 2012 post season game. His slide, if you can even call it that, was more of a collapse. All 250 pounds of Holliday basically rolled onto the leg of Scutaro. No suspension.
So I ask again, why did Utley get suspended?
Well, it is a postseason game. Which means the audience is much, much bigger. Not only were hardened Mets fans angry that their guy got hurt, but casual baseball watchers may be a little more sensitive to these kinds of plays and they were also upset.
This suspension came as a result of public outcry, not because Utley broke the rules. Utley appealed his suspension yet ended up sitting out games three and four anyway for “baseball reasons,” as Dodgers manager Don Mattingly put it.
Perhaps Mattingly was hiding Utley for fear of retaliation from the Mets. A retaliation would have altered the entire series considering Utley had a .333 batting average with a home run against the Mets’ game three starter, Matt Harvey. Harvey has also hit Utley with a pitch three separate times.
This didn’t stop the Mets faithful from chanting “Utley sucks,” and “we want Utley” for most of the game. It’s unfair to Utley and sets a dangerous precedent for players.
Just because a player was injured after the collision doesn’t mean Utley should get suspended. The only reason his suspension should be upheld is if the slide is found to be illegal. And based on my reading of the rules, Utley did everything he was supposed to do in a crucial postseason game.
Let’s not forget these are professional athletes. They’re paid to play the game and are certainly aware of the risks. Ruben Tejada’s injury should be considered an occupational hazard. It shouldn’t alter the way the game is played and has been played for more than a century.
But it will. The rule will be changed in the offseason to prevent anything like this from happening again. And Utley’s suspension should certainly be overturned when the appeal is heard on Oct. 19 because there is just no precedent to warrant it. But chances are it won’t be because MLB wants to use Utley to make an example, and set a new precedent for baseball.