MLB Blew the Utley-Tejada Interference Call and Likely Cost the Mets the Game

There can be no doubt about it, Major League Baseball and their officiating crew blew the call on Saturday night, and likely cost the Mets the game against the Dodgers.

* * *

Edit: In a surprise move, Chase Utley has been suspended by MLB, confirming the analysis below and confirming that the call on the field was in error and that the officials blew the call and cost the Mets the game. 

With the score 2-1 Mets in the seventh inning, Chase Utley slid late and illegally into Ruben Tejada, breaking up the double play and breaking Tejada’s leg in the process. Utley was called out on the play and proceeded into the dugout without ever touching second base.

tejadautley3

Upon review, MLB officials reversed the call at second and awarded the base to Utley, calling him safe. This reversal of the call was wrong for three reasons.

1. Utley was out because the neighborhood play is not reviewable.

Utley was called out on the play. Tejada may or may not have touched second base but, as it was a neighborhood play, such call was not reviewable under MLB Rules:

The Umpire’s judgment that a runner is clearly out on a force play at second base under circumstances in which the defensive player may or may not have touched second base in his attempt to complete a double play and avoid a collision with the runner. Review Rule V(D)(1).

Tejada was clearly “attempting to complete a double play.” Whether or not Tejada’s attempt was likely to succeed — a question not answered by anyone — is actually irrelevant to the inquiry.

If there was just a force out Tejada would have run across the bag, completing the out. Instead, because he was attempting to turn the double play, he took the neighborhood play and attempted to spin, jump, and throw. Take a look at Tejada’s positioning a full step after touching the base as he attempted to turn the double play:

tejadautley4

Whether or not Murphy’s throw was good or bad is irrelevant to this inquiry. It was good enough that Tejada was making an attempt to turn the double play — which is the only inquiry under the written rule.

Utley was called out because it was a clear double play attempt and the neighborhood play was in effect. Any other rationalization of that is impossible to believe. Utley was out. He was called out when the play was ruled on live. No review should have changed that.

2. Utley was out because he never touched second base.

After Utley collided with Tejada, he was called out by the umpire and jogged off the field. The MLB Rules are again clear on this issue:

Runner believing he is called out on a tag at first or third base starts for the dugout and progresses a reasonable distance still indicating by his actions that he is out, shall be declared out for abandoning the bases. MLB Rule 7.08(a)(2).

Even if the runner “believes he is out”, he shall be “declared out” if he abandons the base. That is exactly what Utley did by running off the field.

There is no provision in the rules for a player being allowed to abandon their attempts to reach the next base because of a bad call. As every kid is taught in Little League, you keep your butt on that base until it is resolved.

Not only that, but Utley never touched and abandoned the base — he never touched it in the first place. To award Utley second base would require a complete reconstruction of the play.

3. Utley was out for interference, and the batter-runner was out as well.

At this point, the only question to be determined is whether there was one out or two. A proper interpretation of the rules and facts would likely lead you to the conclusion that Utley was out for interference, and the batter-runner should be out as well.

MLB Rule 5.09(a)(13) states clearly as follows:

(A batter is out when) A preceding runner shall, in the umpire’s judgment, intentionally interfere with a fielder who is attempting to catch a thrown ball or to throw a ball in an attempt to complete any play.

In this case, it is clear that Utley — who did not slide until after reaching the base and who did not ever touch second base — was willfully and deliberately interfering with Tejada with the obvious intent to break up a double play.

When that happens, the batter-runner is out. It doesn’t matter whether or not Tejada had a chance to get the runner out, and in fact, it doesn’t even matter if Tejada touched the base. Interference is a separate infraction that has it’s own penalty, and in this case, the penalty should have been enforced.

Conclusion: there were three separate reasons Chase Utley was out.

This mistake is a huge black mark on baseball. The wrong call turned the tide of the game. Instead of being 2-1 Mets entering the eighth inning, the score was 2-2 with only one out in the seventh inning. The Mets went from a 52% win expectancy before the play to a 36% win expectancy after — which doesn’t even capture the full effect of the blown call, because if two outs had been recorded the Mets would have seen their win expectancy shoot through the roof.

There’s a lot of talk about whether the slide was “dirty” or not. That’s not the inquiry. The inquiry is whether Chase Utley intended to interfere, which he did, and whether he was out anyway, which he was. That’s it. 

This is embarrassing — not only because it is wrong, but because it was reviewed and became worse and how nobody in MLB could properly explain why.

*      *      *

Brian Mangan is … aside from the above, speechless.

*      *      *

Footnote 1 (10/11/15 3am): This is just a draft version of this article (2AM Eastern) and subject to change and likely with a typo or two. I will also endeavor to update this with any information sent my way by readers.

Note 2 (10/11/15 5pm): The original article cited Rule 7.09, it has been updated to cite Rule 5.07(a)(13).

Note 3 (10/11/15 8pm): Chase Utley has been suspended.