Momentum stalls after overturned slide call

April 11th, 2021

knew that a double play would halt an important rally for the Cubs as he hustled to second base in the third inning on Sunday afternoon. He slid to the right of the bag, doing what he could to add a layer of difficulty.

For a moment, Contreras' approach appeared to work, as shortstop Kevin Newman's throw sailed errantly beyond first and Chicago plated a run. In a 7-1 loss to the Pirates, a replay-reviewed decision rewrote the ending of that key third inning.

“I don't think I did anything wrong there,” Contreras said. “I just slid within reach of the base. They probably called me out because I didn't touch the base, but for me, I didn't touch the guy.”

This is where it is worth noting that Cubs starter labored with his command and was chased after allowing five runs in 3 1/3 innings -- the second short start in as many days for Chicago. It is also fair to point out that the Cubs' offense, which has struggled out of the gates to the tune of a .167 team average, remained relatively quiet.

The offense went especially dark after a play with turning-point potential in the third inning, going 2-for-20 the rest of the game.

“As a group, we're not having the right approach,” Contreras said. “We have to take care of that.”

The offensive woes have magnified moments like the one in the third.

With one out and Contreras and Ian Happ on first and second, respectively, Anthony Rizzo chopped a pitch from JT Brubaker to Pirates first baseman Colin Moran. The first baseman gloved the grounder and fired to Newman, who could not finish the double play.

Happ scored on the play, cutting Pittsburgh's lead to 3-2 at the time, with the hot-hitting Kris Bryant due up next. That was before the Pirates challenged that Contreras was guilty of interference with his slide, and the replay review indeed resulted in an overturned call on the field.

“It’s big any time to save a run,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “It was a good, aggressive slide. I just don’t think he touched the bag, and because of it, they called him out on interference, which was extremely important for us.”

Within Rule 6.01 in MLB's official rules, a runner must make a "bona fide slide" on double-play attempts. An applicable subsection for this play is a fourth aspect, which says a bona fide slide includes the runner sliding “within reach of the base without changing his pathway for the purpose of initiating contact with a fielder."

The rule also states that the runner must be “able and attempt to reach the base with his hand or foot.” As Contreras noted, he slid beyond the base and never actually touched it with his left hand. The Cubs catcher explained that Newman had already thrown the ball by that point.

Therein lies the rub for Contreras, who appeared to veer into Newman's way rather than sliding directly to second base and, perhaps more important for the ruling, never touching the bag. So Contreras was ruled out on a play that went into the book as a 3-6-1 double play, sending Bryant back to the dugout to put down his bat and retrieve his glove.

Cubs manager David Ross said he did not receive a clear explanation on the field and is hoping to hear from MLB in the coming days with more details.

“That was a tough one to understand,” Ross said. “The only replay I saw was on the board, and he didn't even touch him. … It looked like he could reach the base, and it looked like he didn't alter his path to take him out from all the replays I saw.”

Contreras had been hit by a pitch from Brubaker in the previous plate appearance, marking the third time the Cubs' catcher was struck this season. He led the Majors last season in that bruising category (14 times), and he has expressed frustration over the consistency of the far-inside offerings.

When Bryant was hit by a pitch to begin the fourth, there were complaints from within the Cubs’ dugout. That led to Mike Borzello, Chicago's associate pitching, catching and strategy coach, being ejected by home-plate umpire Greg Gibson.

“It's really frustrating,” said Contreras, who was hit in the head by a pitch on Monday against the Brewers and then involved in a bench-clearing incident after another hit-by-pitch on Tuesday. He noted that MLB fined him for the second episode with Milwaukee for violating COVID-19 on-field guidelines.

“I was trying to defend my health,” Contreras said.

Even with all that frustration mounting -- fueled further by Chicago’s offensive struggles and rocky start to the season -- Contreras said it did not impact his decision-making on the basepaths.

“That was a good slide,” Contreras said. “That was not intentional -- to hit Newman.”