Chase Utley, Slide properly

Utley’s Slide Draws Mets’ Ire

Chase Utley plays hard. On this count, he has been exceedingly consistent throughout his career.

On Friday, he played hard. The Mets should have expected it. Instead, they offered barely-veiled threats of retaliation.

The play in question was a slide into second base in the fifth inning, as Utley tried in vain to break up a double-play, taking out second baseman Ruben Tejada in the process. (Watch it here.)

The slide was far from perfect; it was late, it was a touch awkward and Utley didn’t begin to slide until he was virtually atop the base, leaving him to land well beyond the bag, at Tejada’s knees.

Fault the execution, but not the intent or the intensity.

This is not the tack the Mets took. Jose Reyes called it “a little dirty.” David Wright said the Mets would “have to reevaluate the way we go into second base,” a not-so-subtle reference to retaliatory basepath tactics. “If he doesn’t mind guys coming in like that when he’s turning a double play,” said Wright in the New York Post, “we don’t have any problem with it.”

These, of course, are Tejada’s fellow infielders, and they might feel obliged to stick up for their own. Their own manager, however, had a different take.

“That’s a style that needs to get back into the game of baseball,” said Jerry Manuel. “You’re not trying to hurt anybody, but you have to go hard.”

Sure enough, Utley was not hit by a pitch through the remainder of the series. One of his saving virtues might have been that he’s so consistent with his intensity. Infielders will put up with considerably more abuse from guys who play all out, all the time, than from those who pick their spots.

From the Baseball Codes:

“When I was playing second base in Pittsburgh and we were running for the pennant,” said Phil Garner, “(Bill) Buckner absolutely smoked me on a double play— damn near broke both my legs.” Garner wasn’t ticked off at the play itself, which was clean and not unlike the treatment he regularly received from players like Don Baylor and Hal McRae (who was so consistently ferocious on the base paths that the 1978 rule disallowing the hindrance of a fielder who has just made a play is known informally as the “Hal McRae Rule”). Garner was angry because he’d never seen it before from Buckner. “This sumbitch slides thirty feet short for 160 ballgames, and now, in the 161st he’s going to slide in hard?” said Garner. “Fuck that. Play the game hard in Game 1 just like you did that day.” Buckner hadn’t violated any of baseball’s written rules—his play wasn’t dirty, just devious—but in Garner’s mind he’d clearly violated the Code. The next time Garner had the chance to turn Buckner into the lead out of a double play, he aimed his relay throw directly between the baserunner’s eyes. Buckner threw up a hand in self-defense; he deflected the ball but broke a finger in the process. Message sent.

Or take Carlos Delgado, who, while on base as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays in 2004, took out Red Sox first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz with a forearm shiver. One problem with the play, at least to Mientkiewicz, was that he wasn’t playing first base at the time but had volunteered to man second after Boston experienced an unforeseen shortage of players at the position. The infielder had, at that point, played all of one inning there in his seven-year major-league career and was by no means comfortable.

Also, in Mientkiewicz’s opinion, such takeouts weren’t a regular part of Delgado’s repertoire. “I’d seen him veer off on double plays for five years and not even slide into second,” he said. “Yet he sees somebody playing second who’s never played there before and he takes full advantage of it. If Aaron Rowand had knocked me on my ass I don’t think I’d have been that mad, because Aaron goes full tilt from the word ‘go.’ . . . If I were to always see Carlos taking guys out at shortstop, I never would have said a word.”

When Mientkiewicz got up screaming, the pair had to be separated. Red Sox pitcher Derek Lowe drilled the Toronto All-Star during his next at-bat, and Delgado was forced to avoid several other pitches during the course of the three-game series. (“Curt Schilling missed him once and came to me and apologized,” said Mientkiewicz.)

At least Utley hasn’t had to face that level of response. Yet.

– Jason

Casey McGehee, Erick Aybar, Slide properly

Takeout Order: One Knee, to Go

Baseball’s Code can be a tricky beast. Certain plays appear to be clear-cut violations . . . until they’re proven to be otherwise.

Let a play that happened Monday at Angel Stadium serve as an example.

With Milwaukee’s Casey McGehee on first, Carlos Gomez hit a grounder to first baseman Kevin Frandsen, who threw to shortstop Erick Aybar for the force at second. The throw, however, was well to the third-base side of the bag, forcing Aybar to stretch wide to field it, leaving him vulnerable to a takeout slide from McGehee. (Watch it here.)

In most situations, McGehee’s play would be entirely appropriate. It’s the job of the runner at first to prevent a double play, usually by taking out the covering infielder with a slide.

(Slide type is also governed by the unwritten rules. Barrel rolls and high spikes are not tolerated; flying through both base and fielder feet first and spikes down is expected.)

There were, however, other factors to consider. First, McGehee could well have been letting out some frustration; that he was at first base to begin with was because Angels reliever Trevor Bell had just drilled him in the ribs.

Moreover, Aybar was in no position to complete the play, even without interference. It was all he could do to merely record the out at second, and Gomez, was far too fast to be doubled up. Aybar was exposed—a fact that McGehee exploited to relatively disastrous results, hyperextending the shortstop’s left knee when he took him out with a slide slightly to the inside part of the bag, aimed directly at Aybar’s leg.

Aybar was removed from the game and hasn’t played since.

All of this when Milwaukee held a 9-2 lead.

It all goes to show, however, that even a seemingly clear-cut case of a Code violation might not be so. Two guys with a firm understanding of the unwritten rules dismissed any notion of impropriety—and they were in Aybar’s dugout.

“I thought it was a clean slide . . .” said Angels manager Mike Scioscia in the Los Angeles Times. “The slide was right over the bag, so I can’t find much fault with it.”

Angels center fielder Torii Hunter shared his manager’s sentiment in an ESPN Los Angeles report, calling that type of slide a “lost art,” and saying, “I like the way (McGehee) is playing the game.”

“Was I going in extra hard because I got hit?” asked McGehee. “No. Unfortunately, the guy was in an awkward position. Look at the video. I didn’t try to pop up on him or roll him. Unfortunately, he got hurt. . . . They’re known for playing hard-nosed, aggressive baseball, so hopefully they understand where I’m coming from. I play the game right.”

A compelling argument can be made that McGehee was in the wrong. Scioscia and Hunter, however, backed up their words with actions: McGehee came to bat 10 more times in the series, and was not drilled once.

When in doubt, defer to the experts.

– Jason

Carlos Delgado, Doug Mientkiewicz, Slide properly

Delgado Rounding First . . .

Major League baseball is reporting that the Blue Jays aren’t much interested in bringing back Carlos Delgado for a second stint with the club. General Manager Alex Anthopoulos has cited a desire to chase long-term success with a young corps of players, a strategy that doesn’t exactly embrace a fading 37-year-old slugger.

Delgado came to prominence with the Blue Jays as one of the game’s great first basemen, but his most significant appearance in The Baseball Codes has less to do with his hitting than with his baserunning. It concerns a specific play from 2004, in which Delgado took out Red Sox first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz with a forearm shiver. The following excerpt has more.

One problem with the play, at least to Mientkiewicz, was that he wasn’t playing first base at the time, but had volunteered to man second after Boston experienced an unforeseen shortage of players at the position. The infielder had, at that point, played all of one inning there in his seven-year major league career and was by no means comfortable.

There was also the fact that in Mientkiewicz’s opinion, such takeouts weren’t a regular part of Delgado’s repertoire. “I’d seen him veer off on double plays for five years and not even slide into second,” he said. “Yet he sees somebody playing second who’s never played there before and he took full advantage of it. If Aaron Rowand had knocked me on my ass I don’t think I’d have been that mad, because Aaron goes full tilt from the word go. . . . If I were to always see Carlos taking guys out at shortstop, I never would have said a word.”

When Mientkiewicz got up screaming, the pair had to be separated. Red Sox pitcher Derek Lowe drilled Toronto’s All-Star during his next at-bat, and Delgado was forced to avoid several other pitches during the course of the three-game series. (“Curt Schilling missed him once and came to me and apologized,” said Mientkiewicz.)

Not in the book but no less interesting is the following, from our interview with Mientkiewicz:

“I was mad for a split-second, but when I came back I said, “You know, he did what he was supposed to do.” But the fact that he doesn’t play that way all the time, that’s when I got mad. . . . I remember the remark I made to him: ‘You know, if you played in a game like this every day, you wouldn’t be 17 games back.’ . . . I never had a problem with Carlos before that, and I still talked to him afterward. But there are veteran guys in Boston, and every time he came up for the next four games, he got drilled. And he didn’t start a big ruckus—he just took his hit-by-pitch and went to first base.”

– Jason