Chase Utley of the Los Angeles Dodgers has been suspended for games three and four of the NLDS by Major League Baseball for what has been deemed as an “illegal slide”. The illegal slide broke Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada’s leg in the seventh inning of game two of this series. "After thoroughly reviewing the play from all conceivable angles, I have concluded that Mr. Utley's action warrants discipline," Joe Torre, MLB’s Chief Baseball Officer, said in a statement. "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 Mets] feel this was the appropriate course of action," the team said in a statement. "With this decision behind us, the team and our fans can now focus on playing winning baseball”.
While Major League Baseball did right by the suspension, the matter was not handled correctly on the field. Tejada attempted to step on the bag while trying to turn a double play, and though he missed, Utley missed the bag entirely as well. A replay review was conducted, and Utley was ruled safe.
There are a number of things the umpires did wrong in this situation that effectively led to a rally in the same inning by the Dodgers that swung the momentum in their favor for good. The neighborhood play is a rule set up to protect fielders attempting to turn a double play, essentially allowing a phantom tag of second base to be able to avoid a slide. These plays are unreviewable, but Los Angeles manager Don Mattingly convinced the umpires to review it regardless. They later stated they believed the throw from second baseman Daniel Murphy pulled Tejada off, which in turn eliminates the neighborhood play. Second, Utley made no attempt to go for the base at all, and it was clear as day to the record-setting television audience that he didn’t. In those interference situations, the interferer is immediately called out as well as the batter. If it had been called correctly the first time, the inning would have ended at that point, with New York up 2-1. Utley was granted second after he did not touch the bag, yet another way the play was mismanaged.
While rules say if neither the fielder nor the baserunner touch the base, the baserunner is safe, the explanation that if Tejada had tagged Utley afterwards he would have been out is ludicrous. For one, he was ruled out, and to tag someone who is ruled out makes zero sense. Not only that, but to say this after Tejada proceeded to writhe on the ground in pain with a broken leg has left people across the nation confused.
Nonetheless, Utley will appeal the ruling and should be available for game three in Queens on Monday if the appeal process is not carried out in time. With ace Matt Harvey on the mound for the Mets in the pivotal matchup, there are certainly fireworks to look forward to.
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