In the eighth inning of Monday’s Cubs-Pirates game, Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo pulled off a successful takeout slide on Pirates catcher Elias Diaz. Though Rizzo was out at home, two runs scored on the play as the slide forced Diaz to throw the ball into the outfield. The catcher stayed on the ground in pain for a few moments but didn’t leave the game, and Rizzo’s slide was not called for interference, even after a video review.
The play ended up not mattering in the final—the Cubs won 7-0—but since reports on Tuesday say that MLB has told both teams that Rizzo’s slide should have been ruled illegal, it’s become a bit of a Rorschach test for each side’s players, managers, and fans. Depending on your attitudes (and, of course, which team you support), Rizzo either made a tough old-school play or recklessly endangered an opponent’s safety.
The relevant rule here is Rule 6.01(j), which explains what a clean slide is:
If a runner does not engage in a bona fide slide, and initiates (or attempts to make) contact with the fielder for the purpose of breaking up a double play, he should be called for interference under this Rule 6.01. A “bona fide slide” for purposes of Rule 6.01 occurs when the runner:
(1) begins his slide (i.e., makes contact with the ground) before reaching the base;
(2) is able and attempts to reach the base with his hand or foot;
(3) is able and attempts to remain on the base (except home plate) after completion of the slide; and
(4) slides within reach of the base without changing his pathway for the purpose of initiating contact with a fielder.
MLB has yet to make any official statement on the ruling, but it seems like Rule 6.01 (j)(4) is what they would believe makes Rizzo’s play illegal. Presented with a clear path to home, Rizzo instead decides to go through Diaz’s back leg. This is the shot that probably makes Rizzo look the worst:
For his part, Rizzo didn’t deny that he was trying to break up the double play, but also said he wasn’t sliding with the intent to hurt Diaz, and believed the slide would be a non-issue had the catcher completed the throw to first.
“When you break up a double play, it’s a good slide. It’s just a little more sensitive when it’s at home plate,” he said.
The Pirates, unsurprisingly, disagreed. “We’re not in old-school baseball anymore. There are new rules and things we’ve submitted to,” Diaz said after the game, while his manager Clint Hurdle went even further to defend his catcher.
Managers sticking up for their players and players sticking up for themselves isn’t anything out of the ordinary. What does make Rizzo’s slide strange is the fact that the higher-ups at MLB appear to disagree with the calls made by both the in-game umpires and the replay center, as they reportedly told Rizzo on Tuesday.
“Illegal, but not dirty” is an odd stance to adopt, and the result—Rizzo being essentially told “you were wrong, but you’ll face no consequences for it”—doesn’t make anyone happy. The Pirates still believe an opponent got away with a dangerous slide, while the Cubs can be miffed at MLB’s reversal:
The Cubs and the Pirates have had some beef sitting in the Crock-Pot for a few years now, most recently over a dumb controversy involving a Javy Baez bat flip in April. Hurdle, at least, was chill in accepting his empty victory, but it feels like only a matter of time before some other random play gets these two teams all riled up again.