If the deed was dirty, late, malicious and illegal on a football field, let alone a baseball diamond, then the aftermath is equally gutless. Of course, Chase Utley is exacerbating his tackle takedown of Ruben Tejada by hiding behind the players union, which would love to drag out Utley’s appeal of his two-game suspension until Halloween week, allowing him to dress up like Jack Tatum while continuing to wear a Dodgers uniform for the National League divisional series.
That said, karma doesn’t appear to like Utley right now any more than Major League Baseball discipline czar Joe Torre, who levied the ban. With a hostile Citi Field crowd showering Utley with profanity and wicked boos during introductions before Game 3, the New York Mets answered his sickening slide the best way Monday night. Rather than retaliating against Utley — who didn’t play, perhaps for that reason — Curtis Granderson and a riled-up team battered former A’s pitcher Brett Anderson and won 13-7, with a chance of clinching the series tonight with a familiar haunting undertone for the Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw trying to save their season on short rest, not a winning recipe in recent Octobers.
Never mind that Tejada, the Mets shortstop whose leg was broken in baseball’s ugliest on-purpose collision since the Buster Posey crash, is being doubly victimized by red tape. This is about a sport that never gets it right first and is tone-deaf to proactivity, requiring an unfortunate occurrence before its ever-idle administrative hand is forced. Baseball needed too many bad umpiring calls before it agreed on a replay system. Baseball needed millennials to stop watching before a between-innings clock was installed and the pace of games picked up. A fan will have to die at a ballpark, apparently, before more protective netting is installed.
And baseball had to see Utley rub out an integral player in a postseason series featuring America’s two largest media markets — charging via South Pasadena to maim Tejada in Chavez Ravine — before it enacts a rule that should have been implemented long ago: A baserunner must slide directly into a bag, not charge at an infielder who isn’t near the bag under the guise of breaking up a double play with good, hard-nosed, old-fashioned baseball.
“I did not intend to hurt him whatsoever. I was trying to break up the double play,” Utley said. “I was trying to put a body on him to break up the double play. I feel terrible that he was injured.”
I’m not buying the sob story.
Let’s hope the episode, wrong on so many levels, doesn’t become the awful memory upon which this series is remembered. If that requires the Mets ousting the Dodgers, so be it — a result that won’t be greeted unhappily in San Francisco. The Dodgers were looking dead again Saturday night, about to go down 0-2 in games involving their magnificent duo of Kershaw and Zack Greinke, when Utley pinch-hit for Greinke with L.A. trailing 2-1 in the seventh inning. You know the rest. He singled off Noah Syndergaard, another blazing young Mets arm, and with the tying run on third, he was single-minded when Howie Kendrick ripped a ball that was fielded by second baseman Daniel Murphy.
Be Chase Utley. Be the hellion who has taken out many an infielder in his 13 years in the majors, including Tejada in 2010, one of many plays that have vilified him in Mets territory. Make a play and win a game for the team he hand-selected after Philadelphia set him free in August, with Utley choosing the Dodgers over the Giants despite having an offseason residence in Sausalito. Problem was, Utley did not slide toward second base. He targeted Tejada with a roll block to the far right of the bag. The Mets were livid.
“That’s not a slide. That’s a tackle,” veteran Michael Cuddyer said.
“There are so many things wrong with that play. Our starting shortstop is out of the playoffs with a broken leg,” infielder Kelly Johnson said. “I want a rule about a guy going into Ruben like that. We don’t have a rule about that slide or whatever that was, that tackle. It’s sad.”
Worse, it led to a four-run inning, providing the emotional impetus for an L.A. victory. “That changed the momentum right there,” Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager said. Thankfully, it may not have a series-altering effect.
Yet it still looms as one of those new-school, old-school events that often leaves this sport locked in the stone ages. While crusty sorts were declaring the play as tough baseball, those living in the 21st century know how evil it was. The umpires working Game 2, unfortunately, decided it was a clean slide — and that Utley should be safe at second. Torre ruled Utley had violated Official Baseball Rule 5.09 (a) (13) and kicked him out of Games 3 and 4, or so he thought.
“After thoroughly reviewing the play from all conceivable angles, I have concluded that Mr. Utley’s action warrants discipline,” Torre 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 (Rule 5.09), which is designed to protect fielders from precisely this type of rolling block that occurs away from the base.”
Utley and the Dodgers should have accepted the punishment. Instead, they joined hands with a union that ought to be protecting Tejada more than Utley. All of which created a mad scene in New York, where the only salvation was that the Dodgers didn’t put Utley in the lineup, though he was 6 for 18 against Game 3 starter and winner Matt Harvey. Manager Don Mattingly denied that he sat Utley to avoid a confrontation with possible retaliation, either by a Mets pitcher or their lunatic fans. “We want Utley!” they chanted in the late innings. But after throwing legal support behind Utley, did the Dodgers only extinguish their own fire by sitting him? Turns out his presence in uniform may have been a distraction. There was Kershaw, who should have been focused on other matters, defending Utley.
“I feel like MLB got, you know, maybe a little bit bullied into suspending him. Never happened before. I’ve seen slides a lot worse,” Kershaw said. “There’s a lot of people that have different opinions about it that probably shouldn’t because they’re not middle infielders and they have no idea what they’re talking about.”
He might have been referring to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who said, “He can appeal all he wants, but he’s guilty as sin.”
While one of commissioner Rob Manfred’s men, John McHale Jr., talks with the union about an appeal hearing date, the two parties must protect middle infielders with legislation the way catchers were protected after the Posey pummeling. As for Utley, a potential Hall of Famer, this is not how he wants to be remembered.
“I mean, I think you’re taught from a young age to try to break up double plays,” he said. “That’s winning baseball.”
Kids should not be taught to play maliciously.
And winning baseball? The Dodgers are trailing again in a playoff series.
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at email@example.com. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.