LOS ANGELES — It has been seven months since the Dodgers’ Chase Utley left the Mets’ Ruben Tejada with a broken leg, the result of a hard takeout slide that would change the way the game is played.
When the Mets visited the Dodgers Monday, most traces of ill will from that infamous slide seemed to have dissipated. Mets captain David Wright insisted that the Mets already exacted revenge by beating the Dodgers in the NLDS. Since then, Tejada and the Mets since have parted ways, and Utley wasn’t in the starting lineup for Monday’s series opener.
“I haven’t said a word about anything,” said Mets manager Terry Collins, his way of downplaying the possibility of retaliation.
However, the play left a lasting legacy, one that is still evolving. As Collins knew almost immediately after Utley left Tejada’s body crumpled on the ground near second base, baseball reacted swiftly and definitively.
Said Collins: “I thought something was going to be done, certainly.”
In the months after the implementation of the new rules — which prevent rolling blocks, changes in direction to target middle infielders, and eliminates the “neighborhood play” — controversy and confusion predictably have followed.
With the season more than a month old, both players and managers still are adjusting to the new world order.
Michael Cuddyer, the veteran outfielder who retired after spending last season with the Mets, earned a reputation for his ability to break up double plays with hard slides. He retired this winter and already the game he left looks and feels different.
“A lot of my slides under this new rule probably wouldn’t have gone over well,” he said recently. “I did always touch the bag and I was in position where I could have held onto the bag. But I definitely altered my course quite a bit, there’s no question about that. That was part of it, part of the agility of being able to do that to break up the double play.”
Cuddyer was incensed in the immediate aftermath of the play that left Tejada on crutches, though he believed enforcing the old rules would have been a better solution than adopting new ones.
Said Cuddyer: “It would be hard for me to slide the correct way now.”
In a way, the new rules have been the equivalent of making the NFL’s pass interference rule eligible for video replay. And managers have taken advantage, asking for reviews on slides in hopes they might be interpreted differently by replay crews.
Even managers who have publicly opposed the new rules, such as the Giants’ Bruce Bochy, have acknowledged attempting the ploy. He did so recently against the Mets in a recent series at Citi Field.
With the Mets leading by one run in the eighth and hoping to add some cushion, Neil Walker made a hard slide into second base in which he successfully prevented a double play. It was the kind of slide that for more than a century would have drawn little notice.
Walker didn’t think twice about it until he neared his own dugout: “Did I stay on the bag?”
It wouldn’t be long until Bochy asked for a replay, hoping that the slide would be found in violation, thus giving the Giants an inning-ending double play on a slide that easily passed the eye test.
“It’s a lot more to look for,” Cuddyer said. “I know managers don’t want to look for that petty stuff but you have to. Shoot, we saw it in the first game of the year, a game could be won or lost by the interpretation of the rule.”
While the emotion and vitriol from Utley’s slide has long subsided, its impact continues to be felt seven months later.
Said Walker: “It’s the world that we live in right now.”