From the Dugout: ’15 MLB Postseason pairs excitement with controversy

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Illustration by Eric Rannestad.

After two weeks of intense playoff baseball, the  Major League Baseball playoff picture is much clearer. So far, this October has been littered with bizarre developments.

In a game five winner-take-all match up between the Toronto Blue Jays and Texas Rangers, a seemingly routine play nearly decided the game. All Star catcher Russell Martin made a routine throw back to the mound following a pitch, only to have it carom wildly from the bat of Texas batter Shin Soo Choo, allowing the go-ahead run to score in the seventh inning of a tie game. In a pivotal moment between the Kansas City Royals and the Houston Astros, a ball took such a crazy hop that Houston’s phenom shortstop Carlos Correa could not manage to put his glove on it. The Los Angeles Dodgers employed such an extreme shift with Mets hitter Lucas Duda at the plate, that baserunner Daniel Murphy was able to walk from first base to third base.

These playoffs have also given birth to endless debates about the decorum of bat flips. In the aforementioned game five matchup between the Toronto Blue Jays and Texas Rangers, Toronto slugger José Bautista hit an emotionally charged three-run home run in the seventh inning to put the Blue Jays on top by a score of six to three. What followed was more than a mere celebratory bat flip. After the swing, Bautista paused to admire his work and then ferociously chucked his bat into the air. In the heat of the moment, Bautista’s actions seem justifiable; a home run in a big moment should draw an emotional response. However, Bautista’s grandstanding warrants complaint. There are many who believe his bat flip and stare down disrespected the Rangers team, pitcher Sam Dyson, and the game as a whole. Bautista’s reaction was certainly over the top, but often pitchers earn big strikeouts and walk off the field pumping their fists and shouting, and these actions are hardly met with uproar. As in many sports with numerous unwritten “rules,” there is a double standard in baseball.

Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley stirred up a great deal of controversy when he slid into second base in game two of the NLDS. Utley went in hard to break up a double play, with a slide that resulted in a fractured fibula for New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada. Utley angered New York and many other voices in Major League Baseball, ultimately earning himself a two-game suspension for his actions. What makes that suspension so controversial is that Utley was ruled safe during the game. In fact, the play went into video review, and after careful examination, an umpire in New York upheld the ruling. Utley has appealed his suspension, referencing the many slides far more appalling than Utley’s in the history of baseball, particularly in the playoffs, and those players were not penalized. The bottom line is that a player cannot be suspended based on an emotional reaction to the play. What Utley has succeeded in doing is bringing Major League Baseball’s attention to a flawed rule. Utley’s slide was dangerous, and it does not belong in baseball, but it was technically legal. Hopefully, Major League Baseball will make the necessary changes this offseason. Expect the madness to continue this October, and watch little known utility players become heroes overnight.