Anthony Rizzo’s Legal but Also [Insert Adjective Here] Slide Becomes Focal Point of Cubs Shutout


Because of course MLB came back after reviewing the play that neither the on-field crew nor the MLB replay crew thought was interference and told both the Cubs and Pirates it was.

On the bright side, it was also ruled that Rizzo indeed made a football move and broke the place, thereby making it a legal catch. Joking aside, if a rule can be (mis)interpreted by different objective observers — though MLB’s objectivity is highly questionable — it’s a really crappy rule.

With no outs, a 3-0 lead, and the bases loaded in the 8th, Chris Gimenez stepped to the plate with a chance to break the game wide open. Instead he grounded to short in what looked to be a tailor-made double play. But since it was the Pirates the Cubs were playing against, you kinda knew something was going to happen.

Sean Rodriguez fielded the ball at short and fired home to catcher Elias Diaz to get the force on Anthony Rizzo. As we’ve seen him do before, the big first baseman barreled toward the plate and slid from inside the base line, taking Diaz’s legs out from beneath him and forcing his throw to first to sail out into right field, allowing two runs to score.

The umpires reviewed the play to see if Rizzo had violated any rules, which had both managers out on the field to converse with the crew. Once they concluded that the slide was perfectly legal (which was the correct call), Pirates skipper Clint Hurdle got thrown out of the game (which he did the right way). Heck, Joe Maddon was still in home plate umpire Bill Welke’s ear even after his team came out on the winning end.

“This is tough on the umpires,” Maddon told reporters after the game (video from Jesse Rogers). “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming the umpires at all. Umpires are awesome. They handled it perfectly, I’m the one that was being a jerk.”

Despite his calm demeanor, Maddon was still heated after the game, and not just about the notion that Rizzo is a dirty player or that he did anything wrong in this instance. The manager’s main concern was that the rule itself could have been misinterpreted, thus leading to further confusion.

“That’s how you should teach your kids to slide to break up a double play at home plate,” Maddon said of Rizzo’s play. “The catcher’s gotta clear the path. You have to teach proper technique. He’s gotta get out far, then he’s gotta keep his foot on the plate clear, because that’s absolutely what can happen.

“My concern was that they were going to attempt to review it in the same way you review it at second base, whereas there’s no base sticking up that you can hold onto.”

Of course, that brings up another hard slide that took place in a Cubs/Pirates back in 2015. Chris Coghlan was going into second to break up a double play and ended up breaking Jung Ho Kang’s leg, which was improperly planted. Awful person or no, it sucks to see stuff like that happen to a player on the field.

There have been plenty of other little dust-ups and incidents between these two teams over the course of 2,500 meetings, though it feels like they’ve been escalating over the past few years. Maybe that’s just because both teams have been pretty good. Or maybe it’s because the Cubs are now 81-65 at PNC Park and that’s not fun for the Pirates or their fans.

“But if that play gets turned over…there’s no base sticking up, they’re saying something about diverting to hit the catcher purposely, or cleats in the air,” Maddon explained. “All kinds of inane stuff. You’re teaching the fans the wrong thing.

“You’re worried about not getting people hurt, but then Rizzo, in the eyes of the Pittsburgh fans, did something wrong or dirty. And that is absolutely incorrect.”

I am fully aware that there are and will be different interpretations Rizzo’s slide, most of which will be fairly clearly divided along lines of fan bias, but the one thing everyone has to understand is that it was perfectly legal. Rizzo was all over home plate, his cleats weren’t up, and he didn’t kick out his feet to leg-whip Diaz (though Michael Jordan probably would have).

For what it’s worth, and maybe it’s just a dirty penny beaten into the parking lot, Rizzo appeared to have apologized to Diaz when he came up for his next at-bat. I mean, he could have been asking why the Allegheny is such a strange color, but my guess is that it was a mea culpa of some form.

All that said, just because the play was legal doesn’t mean you have to like it or think it was clean. I don’t really openly dislike the play, but I can’t say that I have much of a problem with it and would thus be unable to complain if an opposing player did the same thing to Willson Contreras. It’s one of those things that, until legislated against, is an unavoidable part of the game.

If you don’t like that, maybe try to petition MLB or the union to see about changing the rule to be less ambiguous or to outlaw anything other than a very direct slide immediately along the baseline and into the base/plate. But please, please, I’m begging you, don’t come along with some business about the team on the other end of the slide retaliating by putting one in the sliding player’s ribs.

Intentionally beaning someone for any reason is dumb enough, even if you just go from a purely strategic point of view. Why put a free runner on base without making him earn it, right? And when we’re talking about a guy like Rizzo who routinely leads the league in HBP, it’s not like you’re teaching him a lesson about the Almighty Power and Sanctity of the Unwritten Rules.

Still, given what we know about the Pirates’ affinity for exacting pounds of flesh, don’t be surprised if Rizzo wears one in Tuesday’s contest. After all, we saw how well that worked out for them in the 2015 Wild Card game.

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