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The Week In Sports: Baseball Playoffs And Blatter


It's time now for sports. It was a big night in the National League playoffs. The Chicago Cubs drew even against the St. Louis Cardinals. And the New York Mets and the Los Angeles Dodgers took the phrase breaking up a double play to new highs, or new lows if you're a Mets fan. Mike Pesca, host of Slate's The Gist podcast, joins me now. Hi, Mike.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: So let's start with the Dodgers and your New York Mets. Last night, Chase Utley slid into Ruben Tejada, breaking Tejada's leg. It's a move called a takeout slide. And Utley said he used it to break up a double play, not break Tejada's leg.

PESCA: So it's the seventh inning and the Dodgers are trailing by one. On the very play, a run scores. But a double play could take the Mets out of the inning. So what Chase Utley does is he goes in hard, slides over the bag and into a pirouetting Ruben Tejada. Now, interestingly, Tejada never touches the bag and Utley never touches the bag. So the umpire called the base runner out. The call on the field gets overturned by the officials. And then there's the larger issue of was this or wasn't this dirty.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right, ESPN's calling it a malicious play that needs to be taken out of the sport. I mean, what's that about?

PESCA: You know, in the game broadcast, Ron Darling, former player, said he thought it was dirty but he was respectively disagreeing with Cal Ripken, who played the shortstop position, and said that he thinks it's a hardnosed baseball play. Here's the letter of the law - Rule 6.01 says if in the judgment of the umpire, a base runner willfully and deliberately interferes with a fielder in the act of fielding a batted ball with the obvious intent to break up a double play, the ball is dead. It also says they can say that the run didn't score. They could call the runner out. But the fact is, this rule is never enforced.


PESCA: And there was a similar rule in baseball about a catcher blocking the plate. And then a star catcher, Buster Posey, got hurt, and baseball changed the rule. Right now, Joe Torre, who oversees punishment for baseball, is looking into it. I don't think that Utley will be punished. The culture of baseball allows this, but it wouldn't surprise me if there is an explicit rule change to make the rule that's on the books one that's enforced, not a culture of baseball.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And in St. Louis, the Cardinals kind of crumbled last night. They made a couple of errors and had problems on the mound. Now the Cardinals and the Cubs are tied in the series, which seems much more in line with expectations given that the central division is so strong, right?

PESCA: Yeah, these were two teams that had the best and third-best record in baseball. And the Cubs really knew they couldn't drop to 2 and 0 because it's such a long haul to get back in the best-of-five series. Now, for the Cubs, they have to be so excited because they have Jake Arrieta on the mound.


PESCA: And Jake Arrieta was probably the best pitcher in the National League. But since August, he has been the best pitcher maybe in the history of baseball, since they started counting ERA in 1913. He has a .4 ERA, giving up less than half a run a game in his start since August. That doesn't even take into account his start in the wild card game. With Jake Arrieta on the mound, the Cubs have got to be pretty confident.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right, so play resumes in the American League tonight, where the Texas Rangers are up two games over the Toronto Blue Jays. And the Blue Jays, you know, they were supposed to dominate. Is this a series where the playoff experience of the Rangers shows? Is Toronto young and talented but nervous about being in the playoffs?

PESCA: I never buy that argument. I think that David Price is a great pitcher. He's the pitcher who gave up five runs in Game 1. He sometimes hasn't been great in the playoffs. And Toronto's bats have been alive, but they haven't been as devastating. But as I said, the two-nothing deficit that they face, there have been five times that a team has come back since this division structure went into place. But there have been dozens and dozens of times where they haven't.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right, Mike Pesca, his podcast is The Gist. Thank you so much.

PESCA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.