I largely agree with Lee Smith’s take on the collision between Ruben Tejada and Chase Utley in the bottom of the 7th inning at beautiful Dodger Stadium on Saturday. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Utley isn’t “to blame for Tejada’s injury”— to me, Utley’s excessively late slide deserves a strong portion of the blame—but Smith is right that Tejada’s awkward, too-late pirouette, and his related failure to get out of the way or off the ground, made him very vulnerable in a way that middle infielders are taught to avoid. This was a case where—unfortunately, both for the Mets and for Tejada’s health—extra effort didn’t pay off. (Utley’s slide was not too far wide of the bag—he could have touched it, although he didn’t.)
But whether Utley’s too-late slide was somewhat dirty or barely clean—and whether it was deliberately late or just poorly executed—the thing that really did in the Mets (if not Tejada) was instant replay. On the field, the umps called Utley out. The Dodgers tied the game on the play, as Enrique Hernandez scored from third, but there were then two outs. The next batter, Corey Seager, flied out to left, which should have ended the inning with the Dodgers having scored just one run in the 7th and the game tied, 2-2.
Then the unfortunate spectacle of instant replay intervened. Someone in New York (clearly not a Mets fan) decided that Tejada hadn’t touched second base after all, and hence Utley was safe. (Somehow this didn’t result in an error for the Mets, but that’s another matter.) Never mind that Utley hadn’t touched second base. Never mind that it wasn’t entirely clear (at least on my T.V.) that Tejada hadn’t toed the bag. (He probably didn’t, but I couldn’t say with certainty.) Never mind that Tejada was “in the neighborhood,” and the throw hadn’t pulled him off the bag (although it didn’t exactly lead him to it, either). Never mind that both Utley and the batter, Howie Kendrick, could have been called out as a result of Utley’s late slide (although, given that Tejada had almost no chance to turn the double play, and given that Utley’s slide was not clearly beyond the pale—Cal Ripken thought it was clean—that would have been a tough call against the Dodgers, leaving them behind 2-1 and ending the inning on a judgment call).
Instead, all judgment went out the window, and a call that was well-made on the field, but which was already a pretty favorable call for the Dodgers (who were lucky that Utley and Kendrick weren’t both called out), was changed to a call that declared a guy who was later suspended for his role in the play, and who never touched the base, to be safe. The Dodgers’ three subsequent runs in the inning never should have scored—they were all effectively scored with three outs—and what had been a great game to that point should have headed to the 8th with the score tied at two. It not for the hubris of those who weren’t even on the field, it would have.