In the 6th inning last night, Kris Bryant lifted a liner into center field, Anthony Rizzo tagged from third, and former Cub Matt Szczur came up throwing. Szczur’s throw was on line and beat Rizzo to the plate by plenty.
At that moment, Rizzo collided into Padres catcher Austin Hedges, who went barreling backward, but held onto the ball. Rizzo was out, and Hedges left the game with a bruised thigh.
The play was a source of controversy, with the calls from Padres fans to throw at Rizzo immediately springing up, and the defenses from Cubs fans countering just as quickly.
If you didn’t see, here’s the play in question:
In realtime, I thought it was pretty bad. Perhaps that was largely the product of the first camera view, and how far Rizzo (listed at 6’3″ 240lbs) sent Hedges (6’1″ 206lbs) flying backwards. But it also looked like there was a fairly clear lane for a slide.
On watching the replay several times, however, I believe there was a lot less deliberation and physical maneuvering that went into the collision than I initially thought. Rizzo really was lining up for a slide, albeit to the left of the baseline, and then only at the last moment – I suspect – upon seeing that the ball was going to beat him, he made a move to dislodge the ball. And, frankly, I’m not even sure how much of that collision was an attempt to dislodge the ball, and how much was simply Rizzo bracing himself for impact. Again, it’s not as if he had 10 steps to determine what to do – it was all much closer and faster than it looked initially. Watch it a couple times.
From where I sit, there was nothing dirty or cheap about that play.
From the Padres’ perspective, however, the play was unnecessarily dangerous, and a violation of at least the spirit of the rule about catchers not blocking the plate and leaving a lane for baserunners, and about runners not initiating contact with defenders.
“It’s a fairly egregious violation of the rule,” Padres manager Andy Green told Padres.com. “The rule exists to protect that catcher …. I think it’s a cheap shot. I’m not saying [Rizzo] is a dirty player at all. No one is saying that. But he clearly deviated from his path to hit our catcher and took our catcher out. The rule exists to protect him.”
Generally speaking, runners are not allowed to deviate from their path to initiate contact with a defender, so long as there is a path to the base. In this instance, there was a path, but I’m sure how much Rizzo really went out of his way *solely* to truck Hedges.
“I went pretty much straight in,” Rizzo said. “He caught the ball and went toward the plate. It was a hard slide. I play this game hard for 162 games-plus, every day. I pride myself on it, running the bases hard, doing everything hard. I can’t see that being dirty …. I’ve talked to a lot of umpires about this rule. My understanding is if [the catcher has] the ball, it’s game on.”
For what it’s worth, that was my understanding, too, even if I wouldn’t necessarily encourage extra collisions out there (because you’re just as likely to hurt yourself as the other player).
Joe Maddon went so far as to praise Rizzo – “I loved it, absolutely loved it” – because he believed the catcher was blocking the plate with the ball, and the collision was therefore just part of the game.
You can read and see more comments from the Cubs about the play here at CSN, and the message, generally, is that it was just a normal, hard baseball play – if the catcher is blocking the plate, you can hit him. I don’t disagree with that, but I think the Padres would disagree that Hedges was blocking the plate. You can watch the plate again to see, and it’s a close call.
Green went on to suggest that Rizzo should be suspended for the play, believing that the plate rule exists to protect catchers, not leave them exposed to collisions.
“That’s something where baseball needs to consider how you handle situations like this after it occurs,” Green said, per Cubs.com. “Because if there’s some sort of penalty now, then people think twice about it. If something happens with Anthony Rizzo’s next number of games, then they think twice about taking that shot. That’s up to the Commissioner’s Office to make that type of determination. That’s not up to me.”
I seriously doubt that a suspension would be considered for a legal play.
That said, I think if we’re all being truly honest, we can understand why the Padres would be so upset. Imagine the roles were reversed, and Wil Myers barreled into Willson Contreras, who’d been trying to set up in the right position, left a lane open for a slide, got crushed, and then had to leave the game. We’d all be apoplectic.
In the end, I can see both sides of this one, but I don’t think there’s much in the way of “good guy” or “bad guy.” Anthony Rizzo, in a split second, made a play that players have been making since time immemorial, and which is not prohibited by the rules.
Hopefully he doesn’t get drilled now because of it.