UPDATE: MLB has suspended Chase Utley for Games 3 & 4 of the NLDS. Utley is appealing the suspension. His appeal will be heard on Monday morning
By any means necessary.
The Dodgers had the tying run at third and Utley, who had just singled was at first base with Howie Kendrick was at the plate. With the Dodgers season teetering in the balance, Chase Utley had a decision to make. He saw the soft liner just elude Bartolo Colon’s glove and skip up the middle. Utley, in full sprint was bearing down toward second base as he saw Daniel Murphy field the ball. Utley saw Ruben Tejada venture toward the second base bag and as any base-runner knows in this spot your job is to break up the double-play. Utley put Tejada in his sights, the thought running through any good base-runners mind is, “do not let him get that throw off to first base.” Utley had no idea if Kendrick had stumbled out of the box or tripped up the line. And, with the tying run at third, breaking up the double play would get the Dodgers even for the first time in this series.
Murphy’s toss to Tejada was off-line and Tejada had to contort his body with his back to first base just to grab the ball. He then would have to touch the bag, wheel and turn toward first base. Unfortunately for Tejada, Murphy’s toss hung him out to dry and Utley was like a missile who had locked onto his target. At this point as we see everyday it is contingent upon the middle infielder to get the hell out of dodge.
Utley’s slide viciously clipped Tejada’s plant leg and flipped him high into the air. Mission accomplished for the long time veteran infielder. As the din at Dodger Stadium reached defining decibels the Dodgers had tied the game. Utley trotted off the field a little weary after taking a knee to the head. Tejada was prone on the ground not able to move his leg. He had broken it.
Current players, former players, die-hard fans, casual fans and pontificators have all weighed in on the legality of the Utley slide. With all of that said, let’s not view the slide in a narrow prism. This wasn’t a slide on Wednesday night in May. This slide was on a Saturday night in October where a franchise had their season hanging in the balance. This point is made because it matters. The sense of urgency in which Utley had to act definitely plays here.
My first thought as I stared at the TV and saw the play was, “uh-oh that looks like interference….oh please God, do not call interference.” Yes, I thought at first glance it was interference. As a Dodger fan I would have been mad, but would have understood if the that call was made. If the umpires ruled Utley interfered with Tejada then Utley is out, Kendrick is out and the run doesn’t score.
There was no such motion from the umpires. It would have been a stunning call. As someone who watches baseball more than anyone I know; I see slides like this all the time and umpiring crews never make that call. They give base-runners tremendous lee-way as it pertains to base-runners breaking up double-plays. What would ensue would be a surreal turn of events that would not only result in the Dodgers tying the game, but Utley being ruled safe at second since Tejada didn’t touch the base. Umpires determined the “neighborhood” play was not in effect since Murphy’s toss to Tejada was off-line there-by not allowing for the short-stop to just be “near” the bag. It was this toss by Murphy that put Tejada in an exposed spot and helped lead to collision.
Was Utley’s slide late ? Yes. Was it high ? Yes. Was it borderline illegal ? Yes. But, it was a hard slide with the Dodgers season hanging in the balance. His one goal was to break up the double play. If you are a base-runner in that spot you don’t hold back. You are taught, at least I was taught do whatever you need to do to break up the double-play and if that means rolling the middle infielder than so be it. It is the middle-infielders job to get out-of-the-way. The problem is Tejada could not, with the bad throw and his back turned. Really unfortunate.
If the slide was illegal the umpires could have ruled so on the field. But they didn’t. Neither did the four replay umpires back in New York. So, I am not really sure what we are debating here.
Should the rule be changed ? Probably. Would the umpires have been wrong if they ruled Utley interfered and ruled him out ? No. But, as someone who loves pushing the envelope in terms of hard-nosed baseball I loved the play. I love watching replays of Hal McRae rolling Willie Randolph into left field in the 1977 ALCS in a similar situation that tied the game. I loved when Will Clark trucked Jose Oquendo in 1988 and I liked the guts and guile of Chase Utley last night.
The rule will be changed a la the Buster Posey catcher’s rule from 2011. Last night’s events on the biggest of stages with two teams from the two biggest media markets ensures that. But, as for last night, there were ten umpires who do this for a living that ruled the slide legal.