Editor’s Note — This story was submitted two days ago and only my incompetence kept it from being published in a more timely manner. My apologies, Julian.
To begin, Ruben Tejada is not a very good baseball player. Mets fans have ridiculed Tejada for the past half-decade after hitting .270 in four out of his six seasons. He has also produced negative 20 Defensive Runs Saved at shortstop in his career. Tejada is not beloved in Queens. On the other hand, Chase Utley could be on a Hall of Fame path with a World Championship and .858 OPS through his first twelve seasons. There is a clear difference in talent and respect among fans between the two. All this being said, what happened on Saturday night is one of the most polarizing moments in MLB playoff history. As Utley slid into Tejada on Saturday, the entire league took notice of the monstrosity of the way in which the MLB handled it. This will be a black eye on the legacy of Utley and Joe Torre, but in order to properly move forward, both teams must properly handle this.
(In the interest of full disclosure, if it wasn’t obvious, the author of this piece is a Mets fan, but I am setting aside all biases.)
The stage was set, the Mets were up a run in Game Two of the Division Series after a nine-year wait. Noah Syndergaard had pitched a gem and outdueled the top pitcher of 2015. However, a 22-year old can only handle so many pitches. This prompted manager Terry Collins to call his bullpen and summon a 42-year old. While this is wrong on so many different levels, that’s not what the controversy is about. In any event, Bartolo Colon got his job done by forcing a double-play ball. As Daniel Murphy tossed the ball to Tejada, Utley used his signature take-out slide to do precisely what he intended to do. Tejada was taken out, all right. The tying run scored as Howie Kendrick was safe at first. A broken leg later, Tejada was removed from the game and Utley returned to the dugout.
This is where things get funky.
At this point in the game, everything is actually fine. A double play can never be assumed and a takeout slide is completely legal in the game of baseball (we’ll get to the nature of the slide later). However, Don Mattingly came out to argue whether or not Utley was safe at second base. This is against the rules. The neighborhood play ensures that the review of whether or not a defender touched the base is unreviewable.
Why was this done? To protect players in situations exactly like this.
The second base umpire is supposed to call whether or not the defender touched the base and that’s the final decision. The review shows that Tejada did not touch the bag; it also shows that he did not tag Utley. The review also shows that Utley never actually touched second base- but that’s beside the point. This play is not reviewable. The runner on second base should be either called out or safe, depending on what the umpire says- and Utley was called out.
Do you want to know why this play was reviewed? Justin Upton, Chipper Jones, and others have said it perfectly – because it happened to Tejada. If this happened to Troy Tulowitzki, the fans of MLB would be completely up in arms over a review. If this happened to Derek Jeter, Joe Torre would have probably rushed the field himself to demand that the play not be reviewed. Could you imagine if this happened to budding superstar Carlos Correa? But this happened to a replacement level player, a player that no one knows, cares about, or has respect for.
As Upton put it: “If that was a superstar shortstop we would have a Tulo Rule enforced tomorrow.” He’s absolutely right. The umpires would have denied Mattingly’s request to review the play and subsequently would ban take-out slides today. The MLB has already embarrassed itself by allowing the review, but don’t worry, Torre has tried to make up for it. Torre said he will “review” the play for discipline. A little late, don’t you think?
Now let’s switch to the slide itself. Mets fans will remember when Utley did virtually the same thing to Tejada six years ago in 2010. Nothing happened back then because the Mets turned the double play and the Phillies were in a pennant chase. Now we find ourselves with the same play, but with an injured player and a division series at stake. In both cases, Utley slid into Tejada like a free-safety trying to stop Deion Sanders during a 30-yard run. This is completely uncalled for.
However, Utley is not the only person to conduct semi-dirty take-out slides. Michael Cuddyer of the Mets has slid farther outside the baseline this season. The difference is that Cuddyer slid before he actually reached the base.
So how does Utley handle this? He reached out to David Wright and Ruben Tejada to apologize. We fans will never know what was said, but that’s all he can do at this point. The Dodgers just have to try and bury this story and win two of the next three games. There’s not much they can do at this point. All they can really do is apologize.
Now it is up to the Mets to act accordingly. It seems that the inclination will be to “pitch inside,” but this would be toxic. We already found out during the regular season (and many seasons before) that a lot of trouble can come from intentionally plunking opposing players. If the Mets really want to show the Dodgers how to react to this, they should simply beat them legitimately. Win a blowout and completely dominate the Dodgers over the next two games.
I am predicting this will not happen. Matt Harvey and Terry Collins will almost certainly “pitch inside” to Adrian Gonzalez in the first inning and the benches will clear. I would place a ton of money on this fact.
This will put a bad taste in the mouths of baseball fans across the nation and put a black eye on the legacy of Torre. Forget the outcome of this specific game- crazy losses happen all the time- this incident will promote fighting, dirty slides, and intentionally plunking players in a “gentleman’s sport.”
Ruben Tejada might find himself with a fractured fibula and unemployment come later this month, but don’t worry, Buster Posey and Troy Tulowitzki will be okay.