By: Paul DiSclafani
Well now, this is going to be an interesting game, huh? As if the first home postseason game for the Mets in nine years, being hosted at a stadium that has never hosted a postseason game, with Matt Harvey on the mound for Game 3 of a Divisional Series that is tied at 1-1 wasn’t enough, I give you exhibit #1…
Amid all the hoop-la and controversy surrounding Chase Utley’s “hard-nosed” or “dirty” slide into Reuben Tejada that changed the course of Game 2 and ended Tejada’s season with a broken fibula, the Mets and Dodgers still have to get ready for a Game 3 on Monday night. Think the Mets faithful will be charged up for this game knowing that Harvey (13-8, 2.71) is on the mound against anyone NOT named Clayton Kershaw or Zack Greinke?
Utley’s decision to complete a full contact, cross-body block against the defenseless Tejada before he actually entered into a slide has been discussed, dissected, ranted and raved about by the media, players, fans and Major League baseball for over 24 hours and nothing has changed. The Mets and Dodgers are still tied 1-1 in the NLDS, Tejada will miss the rest of the postseason because of his injury and Utley, who did get his bell rung when he crashed into Tejada’s leg, has become Public Enemy #1 in New York. Not that they needed that much prodding, since Utley has been tormenting the Mets since his days with the Phillies.
Everything you need to know about this situation was etched on the faces of the players and management from both teams after the game. Some of them tried to make sense of the situation and said that it was unfortunate, but was within the rules of the game. Others were more brutal and sarcastic.
“’Slide’ would be generous” said Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy, who had the best view of the play some are calling “hard-nosed” while most are calling just plain dirty. When asked what he thought of Utley’s slide, Michael Cuddyer said, “He hit Tejada before he hit the ground. That’s not a slide, it’s a tackle. It’s up to you to decide if tackling is legal in baseball”
Infielder Kelly Johnson was incredulous when he was asked about “The Slide”. “How is it a slide if he hits the player first? If he hits the dirt first, I don’t have anything to say. He has a broken leg because he was crushed”
Mets manager Terry Collins, ever the politician, had some things to say through gritted teeth when asked what he thought. “He broke my shortstop’s leg, that’s all I know.”
Even Major League Baseball didn’t know what to make of it in a bizarre post game press conference with the league’s Chief Baseball Officer, former Yankee skipper Joe Torre. After fumbling around for words to explain how Utley could be called safe when he never even touched the bag and insinuating, incorrectly, that any Met with the ball could have tagged him out as he went off the field – even in the dugout – , Torre touched on the slide itself. “The lateness of the slide, that concerns me.” Torre said. “But we’re still talking about it. I’m still in charge of determining if it was an over-the-top thing. I’m looking at it to see if there’s anything that should be done.”
Utley and the Dodgers, of course, didn’t feel there was anything wrong about the slide that broke up the double play and allowed the Dodgers to tie the game 2-2, eventually leading to a four run innings and a 5-2 win that tied the NLDS at one game apiece.
“The tying run is on third base, I’m going hard to try to break up the double play,” Utley said. “I feel terrible that he was injured. I had no intent of hurting him whatsoever. I didn’t realize his back was turned. It happened so fast.”
Dodger manager Don Mattingly backs up Utley’s claim. “I know Chase is not trying to hurt anybody,” he said. “He’s just playing the game the way he plays it. He plays it hard, he’s aggressive.”
Could this lead to a suspension from MLB? When asked point blank if he thought the play was dirty, Torre hinted at what might come in the future. “I have to determine if I thought it was excessive, I guess is the word, on the slide. Not that you shouldn’t slide hard, but as I said, just the late slide is probably the only thing that is in question now.”
This series has now become a best of three and the Mets have home field advantage. Maybe this is just what they need to shake them out of their offensive doldrums. Even though they scored runs off Kershaw and Grienke, they really didn’t generate any offense – three solo home runs and a two run single. They didn’t have any sustained offense. The Dodgers, on the other hand, have had plenty of runners in scoring position, but haven’t been able to get a clutch hit – Game 2 notwithstanding. The Dodgers are just 3-20 w/RISP while the Mets have had just 4 RISP in the two games.
The Dodgers are throwing Brett Anderson (10-9, 3.69) on the hill as a sacrificial lamb Monday while Kershaw gets ready for Game 4 on short rest and Greinke prepares for a Game 5 back in LA. Unless the Mets can feast on Anderson and get their August groove back, a 2-1 win in Game 3 is not going to mean much to them. They need to break out the bats just so they know they can do it.
And the Mets have to put the Utley debacle behind them, just like Bruce Springsteen preached in “Darkness On The Edge Of Town”, “Cut it loose, or let it drag ‘em down”.
Time for baseball again.