I am not thankful that the Cubs lost Game One of the NLCS last night, but I am thankful that the 7th inning run scored by the Dodgers was not the difference in the game.
To set the stage, the Dodgers were up 4-2 when Justin Turner ripped a single to left field, sending Charlie Culberson to the plate. Kyle Schwarber fielded the ball and did the one thing defensively that he’s *definitely* very good at: fired a freaking strike to home plate. Willson Contreras fielded the throw, Culberson slid into Contreras’s leg, was unable to reach the plate, and Contreras tagged him out.
Immediately, you knew the slide rule was going to come into play. A catcher cannot block the plate without the ball anymore, and must leave a lane for the runner to slide into home plate. If the throw takes you into the lane, that’s OK, but the problem for the Cubs was that Contreras did not necessarily need to stick his leg out while receiving the throw. It looked a bit more like “blocking” than merely “moving to make a catch”.
So, on review, the play was overturned, and the Dodgers were credited with a run. Joe Maddon, who has always been a vocal opponent of the so-called Buster Posey Rule, flipped his lid and was ejected (MLB.com):
Maddon conceded after the game that the umpires were simply following the rule, and that his beef was more with the existence of the rule (MLB.com).
“I have to stick up for my boys,” Maddon said. “I’ve got to stick up for everybody that plays this game. I thought it was inappropriate. I don’t want guys trying to hurt anybody deliberately or intentionally, either. I agree with that 100 percent. But there was no [malicious] intent with that play.”
I get it, I like that Maddon was sticking up for his players, and I agree that Contreras was just doing what he’s probably done all his catching life. But what Maddon is not fairly considering is that the rule is not about protecting baserunners from being hurt deliberately or intentionally. Of course Contreras wasn’t trying to hurt Culberson. The rule is about protecting catchers from baserunners trying to truck them precisely because of plays like this one.
If a play like that is called an out, then runners know the only way they can possibly score is to plow over the catcher – which they’d be allowed to do, because Contreras’s leg was blocking the plate without the ball (remember when Anthony Rizzo destroyed Austin Hedges earlier this year?) How would you feel today if Culberson had run into Contreras, and he suffered a knee injury? You better believe you’d want a rule in place to protect him.
Contreras did not do something intentionally or maliciously wrong. Culberson, to his credit, did the best he possibly could to score without plowing into a defenseless Contreras. The umpiring crew correctly applied the slide rule in order to continue protecting *future* catchers from needlessly getting crushed. It’s easy in a moment like this to be pissed off that the rule cost the Cubs a fantastic play, but how many times in the past and in the future has a Cubs catcher not become injured because baserunners now know they are not allowed to crush a catcher, and because catchers are setting up in a safer position without the ball?
Maybe I’m soft. But the Buster Posey rule is a good rule. It’s not always correctly applied, in my opinion, but this time it was.