LOS ANGELES -- Chase Utley barreled into Ruben Tejada, who flipped head-over-heels and cracked his fibula. A sold-out stadium gasped. The Mets fretted and fumed as the Dodgers scored the game-tying run in National League Division Series Game 2, a 5-2 Dodgers victory that evened this best-of-five series at one game apiece.
With all that as a backdrop, so much of what unfolded late Saturday night at Dodger Stadium remained shrouded in confusion.
The Mets were clinging to a one-run lead in the bottom of the seventh when Mets manager Terry Collins called on Bartolo Colon, who induced a potential double-play ball with one out and men on the corners. Daniel Murphy fielded it and flipped to Tejada, who needed to arrest his momentum with his back to the bag in order to corral the throw. As Tejada caught Murphy's toss and spun, Utley tumbled toward him, beginning his slide just as he reached the base.
Tejada flipped head-over-heels, landing awkwardly and fracturing his fibula as the game-tying run came around to score.
"It was one of those awkward plays, first and third, tying run is on third base," said Utley, whom second-base umpire Chris Guccione immediately ruled out on the play. "I'm running hard to try to break up the double play. Any time you have an opportunity to try break up a double play, you should do your best to do that. Again, it was one of those awkward, awkward plays."
"That's not a slide," Mets outfielder Michael Cuddyer countered, echoing the sentiments of an irate visiting clubhouse. "That's a tackle."
"My focus is seeing the ball," Utley said. "I didn't realize that his back was turned. Everything obviously happens fast. You try to break it up."
Added Utley: "There was no intent to injure Ruben whatsoever."
It turned out to be merely the beginning of the drama. As Mets trainer Ray Ramirez tended to Tejada, whom Dodgers medical personnel carted off the field, Los Angeles manager Don Mattingly asked umpires if they had made a neighborhood call -- an unchallengeable ruling around the second-base bag, when a middle infielder does not have to touch the base to record an out. Umpires said no, in MLB chief baseball officer Joe Torre's words, because Tejada was "spinning around and the reaching for the ball." So Mattingly asked for a replay review to see if Tejada touched the bag.
Replays showed Tejada did not touch the bag. Utley jogged off the field, never having touched the base either, but had no reason to scramble to the bag because he had been ruled out right away. The out call at second was overturned because replay was conclusive that the infielder's foot missed the base. The throw from Daniel Murphy was off line, creating a certain degree of difficulty, meaning Tejada would not get benefit of the doubt on making contact with the bag.
"I think that's what a lot of the confusion is about is if the neighborhood play's in place, what qualifies as a neighborhood play?" Wright said. "It looked like less than an inch. If that's not a neighborhood play, I'm not sure what is. But we had our chances. They put together some good at-bats after that. It's just that one play was the turning point of this game."
The Dodgers wound up scoring three more times in the inning, evening the series at one game apiece, with Game 3 scheduled for Monday in New York.
In their postgame clubhouse, the Mets were most concerned afterward with what they considered a dirty slide to injure Tejada. MLB rule 7.09(f) reads: "If, in the judgment of the umpire, a baserunner willfully and deliberately interferes with a batted ball or a fielder in the act of fielding a batted ball with the obvious intent to break up a double play, the ball is dead. The umpire shall call the runner out for interference and also call out the batter-runner because of the action of his teammate. In no event may bases be run or runs scored because of such action by a runner."
Lost in the opinions about Utley's slide was whether Howie Kendrick, who hit the ball, would have been thrown out at first had Tejada touched the base and not been taken out by Utley's aggressive maneuver. Replays suggest the up-the-middle grounder that was deflected by the pitcher, plus the subsequent backhand flip of the ball toward second, made a successful double play unlikely. Kendrick didn't hit the ball that sharply (80.7 mph exit velocity, according to Statcast™), and reached a top speed of 19.8 mph on his way to first base.
The Mets did feel the rule might have been applied in this case, because Utley started his slide so late. Their history with the longtime Phillie includes a similar play in 2010, when Utley elicited ill will by taking out Tejada at second.
The Dodgers felt differently, defending their player.
"I think everyone knows how hard Chase plays the game and did what everyone would do going hard to break up the double play," infielder Justin Turner said. "Unfortunately, the ball put Ruben in kind of a bad position to be there. We don't want to see anyone get hurt."
"Broke my shortstop's leg, that's all I know," Collins said.
Torre added he is still evaluating the play, deflecting a question about possible discipline for Utley.
"I certainly don't feel that he was trying to hurt somebody," Torre said. "I think his goal was breaking up a double play, and in doing that, someone broke their leg."