Associated Press

Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2016 — #18: MLB adopts “The Chase Utley Rule”

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We’re a few short days away from 2017 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2016. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

In most cases, the difference between a runner being out and being safe is a simple matter of timing: if the ball or the tag beats you to the bag, you’re out. If you beat the ball or the tag, you’re safe.

At second base, however, runners have always had the option of resorting to physical force in order to make up for poor timing by slamming into, undercutting or otherwise interfering with the infielder. Indeed, physically taking out the shortstop or second baseman in such a situation is considered sound fundamental play in this otherwise violence-free sport.

Or at least it was until Game 2 of the 2015 NLDS. That’s when Chase Utley of the Los Angeles Dodgers slid into second base in an effort to break up a double play. In doing so he broke the leg of Mets infielder Ruben Tejada. It was a hard slide, to some a dirty slide, but one not unlike which players had been executing since the advent of the game.

As Buster Posey fans can tell you, however, when a high profile player is injured or, as with Tejada’s leg, an injury occurs in a high profile situation, the blowback is a lot bigger than it would be if the injury happened to Joe Schmo or in a nationally televised game during the playoffs. That gets people talking and when people get talking Major League Baseball, as it so often does, reacts. As a result of the Chase Utley/Ruben Tejada play, baseball reacted by changing the rules related to slides at second base.

The new rule, announced in February, is Rule 6.01, but was called “The Chase Utley Rule” by many. It requires that runners try to make a “bona fide slide” instead of a takeout slide. Specifically, runners are to slide prior to reaching the base, rather than slamming into an infielder in a manner that almost, but not entirely, fails to resemble a slide. Even when sliding, the runner is now required to slide so that he is able to reach or touch the base or at least be able to make a plausible attempt to do so, rather than sliding several feet to the left or right of the bag in the direction of the infielder. Finally the runner is not allowed to change his pathway to the base.

There was some grumbling about the rule at first, with many baserunners and baseball purists lamenting the end of a hard nosed tradition. Even some infielders, who were the ones being protected by the rule, lamented it a bit, talking wistfully about how learning which runners were likely to kill you and learning how to not be killed by them was a part of the infielder’s craft. In practice, the new rule made an ignominious debut when it was invoked twice in the season’s first week, once against Jose Bautista and once against Colby Rasmus, both of which resulted in game-ending plays as opposed to ongoing rallies.

As is the case with most things, however, the furor soon calmed down. Mostly because players learned to live with the new rule and stopped trying to kill infielders. Partially, I suspect, because umpires loosened their standards for what was and was not a “bona fide slide” as the season progressed. It happens with a lot of new rules.

Indeed, a lot of new rules eventually become a lot like a lot of old rules: on the books but unenforced. Sort of like Rule 6.05(m), which had long been on the books when the new slide rule was adopted. You may not know much about that one, though, as it prohibited base runners from interfering with fielders who were trying to make plays. It hadn’t been enforced for ages.

 

Cardinals beat Brewers, both clinch postseason berths

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
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ST. LOUIS — Harrison Bader tripled and homered to help the St. Louis Cardinals clinch a postseason berth on the final day of the regular season with a 5-2 win over Milwaukee, and the Brewers also earned a playoff spot Sunday via help on the West Coast moments later.

St. Louis (30-28) will be the fifth seed in the NL and open a three-game wild-card series at San Diego on Wednesday. By winning, the Cardinals avoided having to travel to Detroit for two makeup games Monday. St. Louis finished the regular season with 23 games in 18 days as it made up a slew of postponements caused by a coronavirus outbreak in the clubhouse.

“You had to throw some of the expectations out the window not knowing what to expect after taking those couple weeks off and all those doubleheaders and so many new guys,” Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt said. “It was very different, very fulfilling to make the playoffs.”

The Brewers (29-31) locked up the eighth seed and a third consecutive postseason berth after the Padres beat San Francisco 5-4 in a game that ended about 15 minutes after St. Louis’ victory. The Giants finished with an identical record as the Brewers but lost out on a tiebreaker due to an inferior intradivision record.

“It’s fitting for 2020 and everything we went through,” Brewers left fielder Christian Yelich said. “It felt just as good as past years. This year’s a unique one. There’s so many challenges we had to go through on a daily basis behind the scenes, things you don’t deal with in a normal year.”

Milwaukee will face the top-seeded Dodgers in Los Angeles in a three-game series that also starts Wednesday.

The Brewers haven’t had a winning record at any point this season. Milwaukee and Houston will be the first teams ever to qualify for the playoffs with a losing mark.

“It’s a celebration,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “We’re in the playoffs. That’s how you see it. There’s no reason to apologize for getting into the playoffs.”

Cardinals starter Austin Gomber allowed one run, one hit and two walks and struck out three over four innings.

Giovanny Gallegos (2-0), Genesis Cabrera and Alex Reyes combined to pitch the final five innings. Reyes got his first save.

“We’d have been happy getting in as the eight seed,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “We’d have been happy being the one seed, but people can say we got in if there was no expanded playoffs so that’s even another feather in this group’s cap.”

Brett Anderson (4-4) surrendered a triple to Bader and a walk to Tyler O'Neill to start the third inning before departing with a blister on his left index finger. Anderson opened the season on the injured list with a blister on the same finger and did not make his debut until Aug. 3.

Freddy Peralta replaced him a day after being activated from the paternity list, and O’Neill promptly stole second. Kolten Wong then hit a line drive off Peralta’s leg that Peralta threw into right field to score Bader and O’Neill.

Paul Goldschmidt and Paul DeJong each added RBI singles to push the St. Louis lead to 4-0.

After Milwaukee scored in the top of the fifth, Bader hit his fifth home run of the season.

“That was a big counterpunch,” Shildt said of Bader. “Got them on their heels again.”

THREE TIMES THE FUN

Yadier Molina grounded into a triple play in the eighth inning when he hit a one hop grounder to Jace Peterson at third base in the eighth inning. It was Milwaukee’s first triple play since Sept. 23, 2016, when Cincinnati’s Joey Votto lined out to first base. Molina was also the last Cardinals player to hit into a triple play when he grounded out to third base at Boston on Aug. 15, 2017.

TRAINING ROOM

Brewers: Counsell said it was too early to prognosticate Anderson’s status after departing with the blister.

Cardinals: St. Louis president of baseball operations John Mozeliak announced that RHP Dakota Hudson will have Tommy John surgery on his right elbow Monday. Hudson went 3-2 with a 2.77 ERA in eight starts before leaving his start on Sept. 17 at Pittsburgh with right elbow discomfort after two innings.

UP NEXT

Brewers: The Brewers head to Los Angeles and will likely be without two of their top starters in Anderson and Corbin Burnes, who sustained a left oblique injury on Thursday.

Cardinals: This will be the fourth postseason series between St. Louis and San Diego, who faced each other in 1996, 2005, and 2006 in the Division Series.