UPDATE: Since this story was published, MLB suspended Chase Utley for two games - Game 3 and Game 4 - of the NLDS against the New York Mets.
Everybody knows that Chase Utley plays hard. In fact, many respect him for just how hard he plays, but he's not drawing a lot of respect for his extremely late slide - if you can call it that - that injured Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada.
With the Mets leading 2-1 in the bottom of the seventh, the Dodgers had runners on first and third, with one out. Bartolo Colon came out of the bullpen to face Howie Kendrick and got what looked like a double-play groundball up the middle that would have ended the inning. Daniel Murphy fielded the ball behind second and flipped to shortstop Ruben Tejada, who had to stop his motion to catch the high flip and then spin to make the throw to first. Utley arrived at the bag just as Tejada was spinning to make the throw. Utley had just started his slide as he reached the base and hit Tejada full force in the back of the legs. The impact made Tejada go head-over-heels and land on his back. The impact apparently also cracked the fibula in Tejada's leg, requiring medical staff to stabilize his leg and cart him off the field.
Utley was initially called out, but after reviewing the play, it was ruled that Tejada didn't touch the bag and Utley was declared safe. Umpires did not use the "in the neighborhood" rule, which allows them to award the out if the middle infielder is close to touching the bag. The rule is designed to protect infielders from taking a hard hit, like the one Tejada took. In order to invoke the rule, umpires have to feel that the play is somewhat routine and that the middle infielder missed the bag specifically to avoid impact. One aspect that wasn't addressed was that Utley never touched second base on the slide and had even left the field after the play.
The tying run scored on the play and the Dodgers went on to win 5-2, putting the series at one game a piece. The two teams play again on Monday night in New York.
Utley's slide was legal in that he was within a distance that would allow him to touch the base, even though he never did. Where the slide went into the illegal area - or at least a questionable area - was because he didn't even start his slide until he was even with the bag and there appeared to be clear intent to make contact with Tejada.
"I feel terrible that he was injured," Utley told reporters after the game. "I had no intent of hurting him, whatsoever, but I did have an intent to break-up the double-play."
"There's a way to play the game hard, but only Chase knows, going in there, what his intent was. I have a problem with the play on a number of different levels," said Mets third baseman David Wright.
Wright went on to question the fact that Utley could be ruled safe when he never touched the bag and why the neighborhood play rule wasn't invoked.
"That's a judgement play and when we get a chance to watch it - I'm still watching replays of it - and they get the chance, one shot, to look at it and they've got to see if the guy touches the bag or touches the runner, so there are a lot of things that they're looking for. So, obviously, Chris Guccione [the second base umpire] didn't think it was a violation, that's the judgement," said Joe Torre, who is in charge of umpires for Major League Baseball.
Several Mets players, including Michael Cuddyer and Kelly Johnson, were upset with the play and how Utley slid into Tejada.
"He hit Tejada before he hit the ground. In my experience, that's not a slide, that's a tackle," said the Mets Michael Cuddyer of the play.
Mets manager Terry Collins acknowledged that many of his players were angry, but said they would be able to control that anger when the two teams return to the field for Game Three in New York. He did say that it may give his players a little more intensity for the remainder of the series.
For his part, Torre didn't fully answer a question about whether Major League Baseball will consider imposing a penalty against Utley for the play, leaving open the possibility that Utley could face a suspension.