PITTSBURGH -- Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo's hard slide into Pirates catcher Elias Diaz broke up a double play, forced an errant throw into right field that scored two runs and left everyone in both clubhouses debating whether the play was legal, clean or dirty.
Umpires ruled that Rizzo's eighth-inning slide was legal, and a replay review upheld the call. Cubs manager Joe Maddon was irate that the play was reviewed in the first place, and Pirates manager Clint Hurdle was ejected after arguing that it wasn't overturned. The confusion and controversy lingered on well after the Cubs' 7-0 win over the Bucs on Monday at PNC Park.
"At the end of the day, we've put a rule in at home plate to protect the catchers," Hurdle said. "And based on the information I got today, and the video I've been able to watch a few different times, seems like we've just put open season tags on the catchers on a force play in front of home plate. Our catcher, he makes the play just like he's supposed to make it and he gets wiped out with a hard baseball slide. I mean there's potential injury. I don't see the rule fitting the means there."
With the bases loaded, nobody out and the Cubs winning, 3-0, Cubs catcher Chris Gimenez hit a ground ball to Pirates shortstop Sean Rodriguez. Rodriguez made a clean throw to Diaz, who had his foot on home plate to record the forceout on Rizzo before stepping forward to throw to first base. Rizzo slid into Diaz's right ankle as he went home, tripping up the catcher as he released the ball.
Diaz's throw sailed into right field, and Javier Baez and Kyle Schwarber scored on the error. As Diaz rolled around in front of the plate, Hurdle asked home-plate umpire Bill Welke and crew chief Mark Carlson to review the play to determine if Rizzo violated the slide rule.
Maddon also got into a heated argument with the umpiring crew because he thought there was no need for a review. However, the on-field umpiring crew confirmed that the play was reviewable. After a nearly three-minute review, the replay official could not definitively determine that Rizzo did not take a "bona fide slide" toward the plate and thus ruled that Rizzo didn't violate the slide rule. Hurdle continued to argue and was ejected.
According to MLB Rule 6.01(j), a bona fide slide "occurs when the runner (1) begins his slide (i.e., makes contact with the ground) before reaching the base; (2) is able and attempts to reach the base with his hand or foot; (3) is able and attempts to remain on the base (except home plate) after completion of the slide; and (4) slides within reach of the base without changing his pathway for the purpose of initiating contact with a fielder."
"My baseball sensibilities are impacted by that," Maddon said. "It's the perfect play by Rizzo."
Diaz, who remained in the game despite the pain in his ankle, said he was "definitely surprised" by the call.
"In my personal opinion, I don't think it was a good slide. I understand that there's old-school baseball, but we're not in old-school baseball anymore," Diaz said through interpreter Mike Gonzalez. "There's new rules and things we've submitted to, and even us as catchers have mentally prepared ourselves for, and I don't agree that that's a legal slide.
"And when I saw the replay, I was like, 'Man, this guy could've ended my career right here.' I understand that they called it a legal slide, but out of what I've been trained and what I've been told, that was not a legal slide."
Rizzo said he didn't intend to injure Diaz and was pleased to see him remain in the game. Rizzo apologized to Diaz before his next at-bat.
"Plays like that are scary. At the same time, you've got to play hard," Rizzo said. "It was 100 percent in the rules -- it's not like I went with my legs up, trying to crush his knee. I just went low, and I don't really ever want to hit a guy in that scenario. He didn't really give me a choice there. I felt I slid over the plate at the same time."
Rodriguez said he would have made the same slide as Rizzo but noted that Rizzo went out of his way to make contact with Diaz, thus violating the fourth requirement for a "bona fide slide." But Rodriguez said that Welke pointed to the second part of the rule, which Rizzo fulfilled, about being able to reach the base.
"I don't think he did anything maliciously or intently to hurt the guy," Rodriguez said. "I just think he tried to alter his throw, and he's a big guy obviously playing the game hard. It's a lot of weight coming behind that. Does it make me, as Diaz's teammate, happy about it? No, absolutely not. Again, that's a part of the game where we need to have each other's backs."
The Pirates did not retaliate, however. Rizzo was booed during his next trip to the plate then slapped a two-run single to center off reliever Richard Rodriguez.
"This is tough on the umpires. I'm not blaming umpires at all. Umpires are awesome. They handled it perfectly. I'm the one who was being a jerk," Maddon said. "You're teaching the fans the wrong thing. You're worried about getting people hurt, but then Rizzo in the eyes of the Pittsburgh fans did something wrong or dirty and that is absolutely incorrect."