Column: Chase Utley’s slide was late, high and arguably dirty

Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada is tended to by medical personel after a coillision in the seventh inning with Dodgers infielder Chase Utley in Game 2 of the NLDS.

Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada is tended to by medical personel after a coillision in the seventh inning with Dodgers infielder Chase Utley in Game 2 of the NLDS.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The slide was late. The slide was high. The slide was questionably legal and arguably dirty.

Even if you were watching it through blue-colored glasses, you had to admit that the slide was recklessly dangerous, so much that it broke another man’s leg.

But after 27 years of frustration, the Dodgers will accept reckless, embrace dangerous, and so on Saturday night they uncomfortably celebrated a slide that won a game, altered a series and may have saved a season.


Eight outs from essentially being knocked out of a National League division series, the Dodgers were desperate for a hit, and so 36-year-old Chase Utley put one on New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada that changed everything.

With one out in the seventh inning, running into second base to break up a double play, Utley threw a late body block into the legs of Tejada, knocking him on his back and breaking his right lower leg.

It was awful, it was ugly, but the Dodgers scored the tying run on the play, and later scored three more runs in the ensuing emotional chaos to take a 5-2 victory to tie the best-of-five series at one game apiece.

The team that has forever fought the reputation for being soft got tough, probably too tough, perhaps cheaply tough, and now they’re going to have to fly cross country and defend themselves. The Mets are mad, their fans will be furious, and it’s going to be ugly at New York’s Citi Field on Monday when the teams meet for Game 3.

It was a costly loss for the Mets, but could wind up being an equally costly victory for the Dodgers.

Afterward, the Dodgers supported Utley, but mostly awkwardly.

“Well, I don’t know if I need to get into whether it’s clean or anything else,” Manager Don Mattingly said about the slide. “The one thing I probably know 100%. ... I know Chase is not trying to hurt anybody.”

The Mets weren’t really buying it, and who knows what that means for Monday.

“Yeah, they’re angry,” Manager Terry Collins said of his team. “They’re not very happy about it.”

Joe Torre, baseball’s rules chief, was clear that the league would be taking a closer look at the slide, meaning a suspension could be possible.

“It certainly was late, that concerns me,” Torre said of the slide. “I’m looking at it just to see if there’s anything we feel should be done.’’

As for Utley, long after the game, he remained as calm as when he finished the original play and ran off the field without even checking on Tejada as the shortstop lay flat on his back.

“Anytime you have an opportunity to break up a double play, you should do your best to do that,’’ Utley said. “I feel terrible that he was injured. I had no intent to hurt him whatsoever.”

The slide occurred in the seventh inning with the Dodgers trailing, 2-1. There was one out with Enrique Hernandez on third base and Utley on first after his pinch-hit single.

Out went starter Noah Syndergaard, in came reliever Bartolo Colon, up stepped Howie Kendrick, and here came the fireworks.

Kendrick hit a grounder up the middle that Daniel Murphy flipped to Tejada to start a potential double play. It appeared that Tejada had touched the bag and was preparing to spin to throw to first base even though there was no way he could have thrown out Kendrick. But it turns out, there was no way Utley was going to let him even try.

Utley came into second base sliding high, so high that he essentially threw a block on Tejada’s lower body. Utley’s head smashed into Tejada’s legs. Tejada flipped into the air and landed on his back.

Hernandez scored from third base to tie the score, but the drama wasn’t finished. Tejada remained on his back, holding the ball but also unable to move with what was later diagnosed as a broken leg. While a cart was rolling him from the field, the play was reviewed to confirm that Tejada had actually touched second base before the collision. He did not, and Utley remained on second, from where he later scored along with Kendrick on a double by Adrian Gonzalez.

Did Utley’s slide cause Tejada’s foot to miss the bag? Probably not. But did Utley’s hustle force Tejada to rush things? Probably.

“I have a problem with the play on a number of different levels,” Mets third baseman David Wright said. “He’s running to second base with Ruben’s back turned, I don’t know what his intent is.”

The only thing for certain is that it cost the Mets their starting shortstop and threw a calm Mets ride toward a second consecutive victory into the chaos of a late-inning Dodgers victory.

“That swings the game,” Dodgers reliever Chris Hatcher said. “It shifted momenetum for sure.”

Utley has always been known as a tough competitor who will do anything to win, and this late-season acquisition from the Philadelphia Phillies did just that. But in coming days, that hustle may carry a price, and this signature play might wind up being a signature embarrassment.

Not that the Dodgers will publicly acknowledge this, but who can blame them? Reckless, dangerous, even dirty? After those 27 years worth of a World Series drought, the Dodgers will take it any way they can get it.


Dodgers’ Adrian Gonzalez produces when needed

Howie Kendrick takes leadoff spot for Dodgers against Mets

Zack Greinke goes seven and the Dodgers beat the New York Mets, 5-2

Follow Bill Plaschke on Twitter @BillPlaschke