Mets players and fans can keep their baseball ethics; the Dodgers will take the win.
In the bottom of the seventh inning of Game 2 of the National League Division Series, the Dodgers found themselves in a 2-1 hole against New York’s second-most-famous baseball club with runners on the corners and one out.
Dodgers second baseman Howie Kendrick slapped a one-hopper up the middle just past Bartolo Colon’s glove, starting what looked like a potential double play until Chase Utley violently slid into shortstop Ruben Tejada, breaking up the double play – and Tejada’s leg – in the process. A run scored on the play, tying the game up at 2-2.
The Dodgers tacked on three more runs that inning and wound up tying the series at one game apiece, a win which seems especially important now as the Dodgers prepare for their Tuesday night elimination game. But after Game 2, few people were talking about the result; they were all talking about the slide.
Utley took out Tejada to win a game for a team that couldn’t afford to lose. Losing consecutive home starts by Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke in a best-of-five series is a hole the Dodgers probably couldn’t climb out of. If they had lost, the Dodgers would’ve had to pack their bags Tuesday night after the beating they took in New York. While it may be argued that the slide was excessive, it extended the inning and led to a game-winning, and season-saving, rally.
Some former players and sports pundits decried the play, claiming Utley slid late and didn’t make a “baseball play.” They’re probably right about the former, but not so much the latter.
Any hustle play that increases your chances of winning qualifies as a “baseball play,” especially in the postseason. The unfortunate injury Tejada suffered doesn’t change the fact that the Dodgers got the result they wanted. Ethics fly out the door in October.
The conversation about the Machiavellian slide would undoubtedly change if it happened in, say, June or July when less is at stake. But the discourse completely shifts in the playoffs.
During the 162-game regular season, the play would likely be unequivocally labeled as dirty by most everyone. But when you’re in the postseason, where a single bobbled ball, slide or pitch can make or break your season, you do what you have to do to get the result your team needs.
Admittedly, there is a pretty large gray area given the premium recently put on player safety across all major American sports. But nothing indicates that Utley intended to injure Tejada. He intended to break up the play and tie the game. Players do it all the time; it’s just that this time it happened to result in a serious injury.
Now that doesn’t mean winning always justifies the means. Ideally, players should play within the rules. And that’s what Utley did; the umpires, at the time, determined that the slide was within the rules and thus didn’t call Kendrick out at first. The league only suspended Utley after further review, a move which doesn’t change the dynamics of the series in any impactful way.
Baseball has a long list of written rules and an even longer list of unwritten ones. But the one rule that trumps all others can be summed up with late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis’ famous catchphrase: Just win, baby.
And that’s just what the Dodgers did. If winning comes at the price of the structural integrity of an opposing player’s right fibula, so be it.