The Giants said all the right things Monday about Matt Holliday’s slide. Although they universally questioned its timing, placement and function, to a man they denied feeling like Holliday intended to injure Marco Scutaro.
Unfortunately, he did injure Scutaro. After Holliday took San Francisco’s second baseman out, breaking up a double-play with a chop block to the knees, Scutaro responded with two hits in three at-bats before being removed from the game and taken to the hospital for tests. (Watch it here, or a gif of the play here.)
The Giants, hewing to propriety, said all the right things. Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, however, summed up the parameters fairly neatly in an interview for The Baseball Codes.
“The only time I have a problem with any opponent is if you slide on the back side of the base—if you jump over the base and then slide,” he said. “If you slide in front of the base, even you end up against the wall in left field, I could care less—as long as you start in front of that base. But if you jump slide on the back side of that base, that shows intent to separate somebody’s knees or legs, and that’s dirty play.”
Holliday’s slide met that description perfectly: He left the ground in front of the base and landed on the back side of the bag—directly into Scutaro’s legs. Bruce Bochy called the slide “illegal.”
A counter opinion comes from Mike Krukow, the ex-Giants pitcher who called Holliday’s slide as a member of the team’s broadcast crew. From The Baseball Codes:
Low barrel rolls [are] acceptable. When A-Rod took out Jeff Kent and sprained Kent’s right knee in 1998, he [low] barrel-rolled him. On TV that night, Kuip [Krukow’s broadcast partner, Duane Kuiper, a twelve-year major-league second baseman] and I said, That’s a legit play. After the game, Kent was pissed about it. He said that was a horseshit slide. No, it’s not. Basically, a low barrel roll— anything within arm’s distance of the bag—is acceptable. (Acceptable or not, the following night, Giants pitcher Orel Hershiser drilled Rodriguez in the shoulder.)
The Giants did not respond on Monday—Holliday went 0-for-3 against Ryan Vogelsong and Jeremy Affeldt the rest of the way—even with first base open in the third, and a four-run lead in the fifth and eighth. Bochy said that Scutaro is probable for tonight’s Game 3, and downplayed any talk of retaliation, but if it’s determined that Scutaro will miss time, it wouldn’t be shocking to see some fireworks. (“If one gets away,” Matt Cain told Andrew Baggarly, “one gets away.”)
Even Cardinals manager Mike Matheny seems to understand this. “We do play hard and we understand that they play hard,” he said in a San Jose Mercury News report. “That’s the way the game goes.”
For his part, Holliday responded appropriately after the fact, checking with catcher Buster Posey about Scutaro’s well being prior to his next at-bat (asked if he scolded Holliday during the exchange, Posey laughed and said no), and calling the clubhouse after the game. (Scutaro had already left to have tests done.)
Holliday has a reputation for going in hard to bases, so Monday’s slide was not out of character in that regard. Hal McRae had a similar reputation, but he took things to such an extent that legislation was enacted to counter his tactics. McRae’s takeout slide of New York’s Willie Randolph in the 1978 playoffs helped lead to the “Hal McRae rule,” stipulating that a runner must have at least a pretense of reaching the base while taking out an opposing fielder.
At least Holliday touched the bag.
Until Game 3 tonight, settle for the below clip of Joe Morgan taking out Dick Green in the 1972 World Series (It’s the second play in the clip.), which has been making the rounds. It’s primarily valuable to help illustrate the fact that baseball has toned down its act, and that—partly thanks to things like the Hal McRae rule—significant amounts of basepath violence have been removed from the action.