By: Paul DiSclafani
Instead of talking about the great pitching performance by the Mets Jacob deGrom and two home runs off Zack Grienke, the focus of players, media and Major League Baseball centered around the “take-out” slide Chase Utley employed against Reuben Tejada in Game 2 of the NLDS, effectively changing the course of the game and ending Tejada’s season with a broken fibula.
“’Slide’ would be generous” said Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy, who had the best view of the play some are calling “hard-nosed” while most are calling just plain dirty. When asked what he thought of Utley’s slide, Michael Cuddyer said, “He hit Tejada before he hit the ground. That’s not a slide, it’s a tackle. It’s up to you to decide if tackling is legal in baseball”
Infielder Kelly Johnson was incredulous when he was asked about “The Slide”. “How is it a slide if he hits the player first? If he hits the dirt first, I don’t have anything to say. He has a broken leg because he was crushed”
Mets manager Terry Collins, ever the politician, had some things to say through gritted teeth when asked what he thought. “He broke my shortstop’s leg, that’s all I know.”
Even Major League Baseball didn’t know what to make of it in a bizarre post game press conference with the league’s Chief Baseball Officer, former Yankee skipper Joe Torre. After fumbling around for words to explain how Utley could be called safe when he never even touched the bag and insinuating, incorrectly, that any Met with the ball could have tagged him out as he went off the field – even in the dugout – , Torre touched on the slide itself. “The lateness of the slide, that concerns me.” Torre said. “But we’re still talking about it. I’m still in charge of determining if it was an over-the-top thing. I’m looking at it to see if there’s anything that should be done.”
Utley and the Dodgers, of course, didn’t feel there was anything wrong about the slide that broke up the double play and allowed the Dodgers to tie the game 2-2, eventually leading to a four run innings and a 5-2 win that tied the NLDS at one game apiece.
“The tying run is on third base, I’m going hard to try to break up the double play,” Utley said. “I feel terrible that he was injured. I had no intent of hurting him whatsoever. I didn’t realize his back was turned. It happened so fast.”
Dodger manager Don Mattingly backs up Utley’s claim. “I know Chase is not trying to hurt anybody,” he said. “He’s just playing the game the way he plays it. He plays it hard, he’s aggressive.”
None of that nonsense is going to cut it in the Mets locker room.
Utley’s “slide” started as he arrived at the bag, not before it. He didn’t even hit the ground until he hit Tejada at full force with a rolling, cross body block. As a second baseman by trade, Utley should understand the difference between a clean, hard slide trying to break up a double play and what happened in this game. But Utley has a history of taking out runners at second in this fashion during his 13-year career, being accused of the same thing against Tejada back in 2010.
“He’s a second baseman. If he wants guys sliding like that into him, then it’s perfectly fine,” David Wright said back then. “He knows how to play the game. If he doesn’t mind guys coming in like that when he’s turning a double play, then we don’t have any problem with it. It’s a legal slide. It’s within the rules. But somebody is going to get hurt.”
Kelly Johnson, an infielder who has played both short and second, was livid after the game. He wasn’t questioning Utley’s desire to play hard, it was the method of delivery.
“Chase is playing hard,” he said. “He’s doing his thing. He’s in the moment. That’s not the issue. The issue is he hit our shortstop first before hitting dirt. The question is at, one, is that illegal? At what point do we say, ‘Hey, man, we missed something here.’ We’ve got rules at home plate to protect our guys. What’s the difference? Ruben stuck his neck out there to make a play to try to get the bag and then to turn to make a throw. And before he can get the ball out of the glove he’s getting tackled.”
Even players not involved in the game, got into the game via social media. Padres outfielder Justin Upton said, “If that was a superstar shortstop (like Troy Tulowitzski), we would have a “Tulo” rule being enforced tomorrow”, referencing baseball’s new rule protecting catchers that is called “The Buster Posey” rule.
The subject of protecting certain players over others didn’t sit well with Johnson, either. “I want to know why there’s not something in place to protect us (infielders),” Johnson said. “and not jump into, break fibulas and knock people out of the game.”
In the TBS broadcast booth, Mets SNY announcer Ron Darling compared the play to football. “If this was the NFL, Uutley would have been flagged for interference on a defenseless receiver.”
When asked point-blank if he thought the play was dirty, Torre hinted at what might come in the future. “I have to determine if I thought it was excessive, I guess is the word, on the slide. Not that you shouldn’t slide hard, but as I said, just the late slide is probably the only thing that is in question now.”
And what was Utley’s intent? Wright can’t help you. “Only Chase knows what his intent was,” said the Mets Captain, “You’re going to have to as Chase what the intent was. Reuben had his back to him and couldn’t protect himself. When he’s running to second base with Reuben’s back turned, I don’t know what his intent was.”
Game 3 is Monday night at Citi Field with Matt Harvey on the mound for the Mets. You think Chase Utley gets into the batter’s box? Enough said…