I am steaming mad right now! There is so much wrong with what happened between Chase Utley and Ruben Tejada yesterday during game 2 of the NLDS between the Mets and the Dodgers. And unfortunately, as I was rooting against the Dodgers, I saw the whole bloody thing unfold live. I’ve even been having a Twitter conversation with Dave Benz about it and ranting in my Giants Facebook groups. I’m ticked!
For those who haven’t seen this disaster yet, here’s the video (the second one on this page). I’ll summarize: Chase Utley was at first. Kiké Hernandez was on third. The Dodgers were down 2 to 1 at this point with one out. Howie Kendrick was at bat and hit a line drive to center field, Daniel Murphy fielded it and then threw to Ruben Tejada at second to get Utley out. In an attempt at breaking up the double play, Utley slid into Tejada, causing him to flip and making it impossible for him to get the batter out at first. Utley was called out, but Hernandez came in to tie the game.
After the play, it was obvious that something was wrong with Tejada. He had suffered a fractured fibula as a result of Utley taking him out, and he had to be driven off the field. But the insanity didn’t end there. The Dodgers had the play reviewed, and since Tejada never actually touched second base, Utley was called safe. The interesting thing is that Utley never tagged second either.
So what is wrong with this picture? So many things! First, let’s talk about the fact that Utley was subsequently called safe because Tejada didn’t touch the bag. My old friend the neighborhood play should have come into play here. Tejada doesn’t have to touch the bag so that he can get out of the way of the runner easily while trying to make the double play. This play is called all the time, so he should expect that it will be called this time. But no, the umpire ruled that the neighborhood play was not in effect because Murphy’s throw pulled Tejada off the bag. That’s a load of excrement! Watch the video! Imagine you’re Tejada. He could have easily tagged the bag, but he was trying to get out of the way of the guy who was barreling at him at full speed trying to take him out. So if they had called the neighborhood play like they should have (even though I hate it), Utley should have been out.
Wrong thing number 2: How could Utley be safe when he never even touched the bag? The claim for this one is that once he was called out, the ball was dead, so when the play was called into question, it was the umpire’s duty to decide since Tejada never tagged the bag if Utley would have been safe or not. This part of the equation would be mute if they got the call right in the first place.
Wrong thing number 3: Ignore those last two. There is a rule that the umpires could have evoked that applies to the situation where the runner purposely tries to blow up the fielder at second. MLB rule 6.01 (6) states “If, in the judgment of the umpire, a base runner willfully and deliberately interferes with a batted ball or a fielder in the act of fielding a batted ball with the obvious intent to break up a double play, the ball is dead. The umpire shall call the runner out for interference and also call out the batter-runner because of the action of his teammate. In no event may bases be run or runs scored because of such action by a runner.” Did he interfere with the fielder? Yes. He broke his leg. It’s kind of hard to throw to first with a broken leg. Was the intent to break up the double play? Well, it sure wasn’t to get to second base as he slid after the bag and he never even touched it! If the umpires had gotten it right and followed this rule, not only would Utley be out, but Kendrick would be out as well and no runs would have been scored that inning. And the outcome of the game for the stinkin’ Dodgers may have been a little different without the momentum they got from that inning.
I’ve been looking at what people are saying about this on social media, and it’s interesting that for the first time I can remember, instead of all the players coming out in favor of Utley, it’s pretty much split right down the middle. You usually get all the macho guys saying, “That’s just baseball,” or “He wasn’t trying to hurt him, just playing hard,” but some guys like Justin Upton and Jose Reyes believe it was poor judgment on Utley’s part. Even the guys in the booth that night had differing opinions about whether it was right.
So should we all vilify Chase Utley? Even though I hate the Dodgers (and Chase Utley), the answer is no. Guys do this kind of thing all the time. They are even taught to do it. Why? Mainly because they are allowed to get away with it even though there is a rule against it. The fault lies with the umpires who rarely if ever evoke this rule. Plus the rule is still open to interpretation by the umps. We want these amazing players in the game making fantastic plays, not out of it. Maybe a better rule needs to be written. They did it for the catchers. Maybe it’s time to do it for other infielders. If there was a better rule, maybe Ruben Tejada would be in the starting lineup on Monday instead of watching the game from his couch.
As I’m writing this, I just read that Chase Utley is being suspended for games 3 and 4 of the Division Series as a result of all this. Joe Torre, MLB Chief Baseball Officer, stated, “After thoroughly reviewing the play from all conceivable angles, I have concluded that Mr. Utley’s action warrants discipline. While I sincerely believe that Mr. Utley had no intention of injuring Ruben Tejada, and was attempting to help his Club in a critical situation, I believe his slide was in violation of Official Baseball Rule 5.09 (a) (13), which is designed to protect fielders from precisely this type of rolling block that occurs away from the base.” The purpose of the rule is “to penalize the offensive team for deliberate, unwarranted, unsportsmanlike action by the runner in leaving the baseline for the obvious purpose of crashing the pivot man on a double play, rather than trying to reach the base.” That’s refreshing. Maybe finally players (and umpires) will take note. Utley can appeal and I’m assuming he will, meaning he’ll still be able to play until they make a decision (and who knows when that will be). But at least it’s a start. Good job on taking action, Torre.
So many guys have lost playing time and even their careers to this kind of thing. I found out recently listening to Mike Krukow on KNBR that even our own beloved Duane Kuiper was a victim of this as well. In 1980, while playing second baseman for the Cleveland Indians, Kuip leaped to avoid Tom Paciorek who was sliding into second base. Kuip came down on his right leg and it gave out. Surgery was required to repair cartilage and ligament damage. He ended up being out for more than a season because of it, and when he did come back he had to wear a bulky brace on his right knee. Kruk said if you asked Kuip, he’d say the guy who slid into him wasn’t doing anything wrong. That’s how those guys are. But they deserve to be protected.
OK, coming down off the soapbox now. I would love to hear what you people have to say about this. Comments are always appreciated. Will continue to watch the Dodgers and root for their demise. Plus the season awards should be coming out soon, so I’ll let you know if any of our boys are honored. I have a bunch of other goodies, but I’ll save them for later as once again, this has turned out much longer than I expected! Until next time, GO GIANTS!