In the fourth game of the 2016 season, with Chase Utley in the opposing on-deck circle, the San Francisco Giants got their first look at the Chase Utley rule in action.
The scenario: second inning, one out, bases loaded. Jake Peavy gets Dodgers pitcher Alex Wood to ground into what’s originally ruled an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play. But the Los Angeles Dodgers challenge that second baseman Joe Panik’s foot left second base before he received the ball from shortstop Brandon Crawford, negating the out at second.
In past years the so-called “neighborhood rule” gave infielders some wiggle room around second base to avoid runners bearing down on them. But that changed under new slide rules implemented at second base partly in reaction to the play in last year’s NLCS where Utley’s slide into Ruben Tejada left the Mets shortstop with a broken leg.
This year, infielders must tag second base while turning the double play. And in this case, replays showed that Panik’s foot appeared to come off the bag before the ball hit his glove. Umpires reviewed the play and reversed the call, and the inning continued with the Dodgers being credited their second run.
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“It gets back to the old neighborhood play,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said after the Giants beat the Dodgers, 12-6, in their home opener Wednesday. “It’s going to be an adjustment for some of these infielders. You learn from something like this. Joe will.
“I think the throw, he went up to get it and it took him off (the bag). We could see it. I wasn’t surprised to see that overturned there. You have to adjust here now. You’ve got to be on the bag. We learn from this.”
At their core, the new slide rules this year are supposed to protect infielders like Panik and Tejada. They stipulate that the runner going into second has to make a true attempt to slide into and remain on the base, and cannot change his path in the middle of his slide to break up the double play. The thinking is that because runners are no longer executing take-out slides, defenders must complete the play by actually touching second base.
“I was fine with the neighborhood play,” Bochy said. “But now that the rule has changed, I understand it. You’re going to protect these infielders, OK, now they need to be on the bag because they don’t need to protect themselves as much. I’m fine with it. Like I said, we have to adjust to this and handle that double play a little bit different and make sure that we’re on the bag.”
Panik agreed that he will have to make an adjustment. He said he has turned that play the same way for years, using the base as leverage to jump off, set his feet and throw to first.
“I really never was too conscious about it until honestly today,” Panik said. “My footwork has always kind of been the same.”
Panik said that when the Dodgers challenged the call, his first thought was that he’d been on the base, and that he asked the second-base umpire, who was equally unsure.
“Things happen so fast,” Panik said. “You’re trying to get the ball in and out. You just have to wait that split-second longer.
“The rule’s the rule, and I’ve got to be ready for it,” he added. “They’re trying to do right by us.”
Peavy, for one, was miffed at time. The reversal extended an inning the Giants’ starter thought he had escaped and extended the Dodgers’ lead at the time to 2-0. He limited further damage in the second by striking out Utley for the third out.
“It’s a big change of emotion,” Peavy said. “You’re trying to get out of that inning with that ball. That happened. You’re excited, you’ve limited to one run, now we get on with the game. Now they put a run on the board and send you back out there with guys on second and third and the leadoff guy up, who’s swinging the bat well.
“I didn’t have good thoughts about it. But once again, being a professional is being able to lock in and give your team your best effort and I was proud to be able to do that in that situation.”