A hard slide that changed the course of a playoff game between the Mets and Dodgers has been deemed controversial by fans, but legal under existing rules by MLB.
During the seventh inning of Game 2 of the National League Division Series between the New York Mets and the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Mets were up 2–1. With one out, Dodgers infielder Howie Kendrick hit a single that scored the runner from third base and advanced runner Chase Utley to second base. To get to the base, Utley did a late slide toward the base and sent Mets second baseman Ruben Tejada flying backwards into the air. Tejada was taken off the field with a cart.
It was later announced that Tejada's leg was broken, ruling him out for the remainder of the postseason.
Utley's slide proved to be immediately controversial: During the slide he at no point touched second base, but video replay showed that Tejada had missed touching the base by a couple inches, too. Though neither player had actually touched second base, Utley was ruled safe at second after a replay review.
MLB implemented replay review only prior to the 2014 season, but has an exception for the "neighborhood play" — which is where an infielder will attempt to get an out at second and then throw to first, and is awarded the out even if he misses the base by a few inches.
The allowance of the neighborhood play is in place specifically to prevent infielders from getting hurt.
The play was reviewed, though, because MLB ruled that Tejada had no chance at turning a successful double play.
An MLB official told Joel Sherman of the New York Post that an offensive player is favored in determining whether a runner is out or safe when neither the fielder nor the runner actually touch the base.
After the play was settled, Tejada was replaced at shortstop by Wilmer Flores. Dodgers rookie Corey Seager hit a pop fly for the next out, then first baseman Adrian Gonzalez hit a double and advanced to third base to score Utley and Kendrick, bringing the score to 4–2. Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner hit another double next, scoring Gonzalez and bringing the score to 5–2, Dodgers.
The Mets could not recover the lead, and the Dodgers took Game 2 of the NLDS. The Mets won Game 1, and the best-of-5 series will be tied when the teams return to the field in New York City on Monday night.
The Dodgers will certainly take the field to a shower of boos from Mets fans, who have waited nine years for their team to appear in the MLB postseason.
Though the play was technically legal by current MLB rules, Utley's slide remains controversial among baseball fans and analysts.
Utley's slide was not ruled as interference on the field, and the call is not reviewable. However, rule 7.09 of MLB's official rules defines interference:
If, in the judgment of the umpire, a batter-runner willfully and deliberately interferes with a batted ball or a fielder in the act of fielding a batted ball, with the obvious intent to break up a double play, the ball is dead; the umpire shall call the batter-runner out for interference and shall also call out the runner who had advanced closest to the home plate regardless where the double play might have been possible. In no event shall bases be run because of such interference.
If Utley's slide had been called interference on the field, the double play would have ended the inning, and the Mets would have taken a one-run lead into the eighth inning.
When asked postgame if Mets manager Terry Collins felt Utley's slide was clean, he responded simply: "Well, it broke my shortstop's leg."
When asked to define a "dirty" slide, Utley told reporters he believes it is when a runner goes in "cleats high and hitting a guy before you hit the ground." He asserted that despite the outcome of the play, "there was no attempt to injure Ruben whatsoever."
Lindsey Adler is a sports reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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