It will forever be known in Mets history as “The Slide” — Chase Utley’s takeout of Ruben Tejada that broke his leg and won Game 2 of the NLDS for the Dodgers. It was a play with so many moving parts, all of them going against the Mets.
To recap, the Mets were holding onto a precarious 2-1 lead in the bottom of the seventh inning when a tiring Noah Syndergaard gave way to Bartolo Colon with runners on first and third with one out. Howie Kendrick hit a shot up the middle. Daniel Murphy snared it and flipped it to Tejada for the force at second. Tejada took the throw and then spun around to make an acrobatic throw to first. Except with his back turned, Utley charged into him, flipping him over and breaking his leg. Utley was initially ruled out, but replays showed Ruben Tejada never touched the base. The call was overturned. But the same replay showed Utley never touched the base, either. But the umps ruled him safe anyway. After another out (which would have been the third out), the Dodgers scored three more runs (the tying run scored on the play) to win the game.
Before we get to the slide itself, let’s look at the call. Many people say the “neighborhood” play (in which a fielder does not have to necessarily touch the base if he is moving away to avoid a runner and turn a double play) should have been in order. That play is not reviewable. But the umpires called off the neighborhood play because Murphy’s throw pulled Tejada off the base. In a Q&A with ESPN New York‘s Adam Rubin, MLB chief baseball officer Joe Torre said, “This wasn’t a neighborhood play because spinning around and the reaching for the ball and stuff like that…. That’s judged on the field. Once it goes to replay, that’s not a neighborhood play.”
Now, why was Utley ruled safe even though he never touched the base? The original call on the field was out. So Utley correctly trotted off. When the play was overturned, Utley was never required to touch the base. “Tejada showed that he didn’t touch the bag, and Utley never touched second base,” Torre said. “The fact that he was called out meant he didn’t — he’s not required to touch second base once he’s called out. So when the play was overturned, he gets awarded second base on that.
“He never needed to touch the base because the umpire called him out. You’re correcting umpire’s mistake. In that situation, by going to replay, and they see the runner never touched the base, but the umpire called him out, by replay rules we can correct the situation and put the runner on the bag.”
So that explains that. But now to the slide itself. Most observers agree it was dirty; he didn’t even begin his slide until he was almost at the base. He was within range of the base, which is part of the rule. But Utley obviously had no interest in touching the base. So why wasn’t it ruled an illegal slide with Utley being ruled out?
“Yeah, well, I mean, that’s a judgment play,” said Torre. “We get a chance to watch it. I’m still watching replays of it. They get a chance, one shot to look at it. Especially with the fact that they’ve got to see if the guy touches the bag or touches the runner, so there are a lot of things they’re looking for. Obviously, (umpire) Chris Guccione didn’t think it was a violation. That’s a judgment…
“I think his goal was breaking up a double play, and in doing that, someone broke their leg. He was, I agree, he was within range of the bag, yeah. It wasn’t like the fielder was over here, and he went right at him and couldn’t reach the bag. Yeah, that’s where it becomes not cut and dry.”
It was pretty cut and dry for the players. Michael Cuddyer called it a “tackle.” Murphy said, “To call it a slide will be generous.” Even Kendrick, Utley’s own teammate, said, “He probably did slide late.” Many current players with no connection to the Mets went on Twitter, most of them calling it dirty and/or illegal.
For his part, Utley said he was not trying to hurt anyone. “It was one of those awkward plays first and third, tying run on third base, going hard trying to break up the double play… Honestly, I feel terrible that he was injured. I had no intent to hurt him whatsoever. But I did have an intent to break up the double play.”
In any case, even if the umpires did not think it was a dirty slide (a judgment call with which most people disagree), they still blew the initial call. No one touched the base, which means no call should have been made. That would have resulted in a scramble for the bag, which Utley probably would have won, considering Ruben Tejada was hobbled by a broken leg.
In the end, the play cost the Mets the game. No one knows what would have happened if Utley had been called out, but right now the series is tied at one. And if the Mets go on to lose, you can point to this play as the moment it all turned around for the Dodgers. And you can point to the umpires as helping the Dodgers win the series. And it should never come down to that.