Screaming tabloid headlines were awaiting the Dodgers when they landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
“SCREWED!” the back page of the New York Post cried. “UT-TER DISGRACE!” the New York Daily News shrieked.
The furor over Dodgers infielder Chase Utley’s violent takeout slide of shortstop Ruben Tejada only intensified Sunday, as the commissioner’s office suspended the former All-Star for Games 3 and 4 of the National League division series against the New York Mets.
Joel Wolfe, the agent who represents Utley, announced that his client would appeal the two-game ban, which he described in a statement as “outrageous and completely unacceptable.” The Dodgers issued a statement of their own, saying they supported Utley’s decision to appeal his punishment.
The hearing probably will take place Monday, some time before the start of Game 3.
The Mets will play that game, as well as every other game this October, without Tejada, who broke his right leg on the play in question Saturday night. Utley’s slide sparked a four-run seventh inning for the Dodgers, who went on to claim a 5-2 victory that tied the best-of-five series at one apiece.
Utley was said to be distraught by what happened to Tejada. Wolfe confirmed Utley extended an apology through Mets captain David Wright.
Regardless, the Mets said in a statement they supported baseball’s decision to suspend Utley, adding they felt “this was the appropriate course of action.”
“With this decision behind us,” the Mets said, “the team and our fans can now focus on playing winning baseball.”
Joe Torre, the former Dodgers manager and current chief baseball officer of Major League Baseball, said in a news release that he believed Utley had no intention of injuring Tejada.
However, Torre determined that Utley was in violation of Rule 5.09(a)(13), which forbids “deliberate, unwarranted, unsportsmanlike action by the runner in leaving the baseline for the obvious purpose of crashing the pivot man on a double play, rather than reach the base.”
“A two-game suspension for a legal baseball play is outrageous and completely unacceptable,” Wolfe said in a statement. “Chase did what all players are taught to do in this situation — break up the double play. We routinely see plays at second base similar to this one that have not resulted in suspensions.”
Utley is expected to emphasize that final point in his appeal hearing, according to a person close to the situation who spoke under the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the situation. Among the plays Utley probably will highlight is a slide Chris Coghlan of the Chicago Cubs made into Jung Ho Kang of the Pittsburgh Pirates last month. Kang will be sidelined for six to eight months recovering from leg and knee operations.
In the hours leading up to Utley’s suspension, Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly said he saw nothing wrong with what the former World Series champion did.
“It was a hard, aggressive, legal slide to me,” Mattingly said. “Our organization is proud of the way Chase plays. We love the way he plays. He’s got a reputation for playing the game right, playing it hard, and we’re behind him 100%.”
Mets Manager Terry Collins was adamant Utley’s slide was late. He also hinted there could be retribution.
The Mets’ starter in Game 3, Matt Harvey, already has a contentious history with Utley, as he struck him with a pitch in April when Utley was playing for the Philadelphia Phillies.
What would happen if Harvey pitched to Utley on Monday?
“I certainly can’t answer that, as you know, but all I know is for years and years and years, as long as this game is played, and we know there are a lot of changes, players always took care of stuff themselves,” Collins said.
Harvey said his priority was to pitch effectively, but added, “As far as sticking up for your teammates, I think being out there and doing what’s right is exactly what I’m going to do.”
If the Mets initiate an altercation, Mattingly said, the Dodgers would be ready.
“We’ve been involved with a few things over the years,” Mattingly said. “We really don’t start anything, but we’ve never backed away.”
Collins and Mattingly both said they hoped warnings wouldn’t be issued before the game, as their pitchers could be disinclined to pitch inside.