LOS ANGELES – John Lackey, baseball culture warrior, gave an instant analysis before walking through Dodger Stadium’s visiting clubhouse on Saturday night: “It’s sad that’s the direction our game’s gotten. That’s a textbook play by a kid and he got penalized for it.”
But did the seventh-inning play the Cubs kept talking about – and kept getting asked about – really matter? Eh, sort of. It meant one run and a momentum swing – against a Dodger team that looks much sharper than the Washington Nationals and still had star closer Kenley Jansen waiting for a four-out save.
At least it gave manager Joe Maddon a distraction – and a chance to vent – after he got ejected from a 5-2 loss that put the Cubs down 0-1 in the National League Championship Series.
“That was a beautifully done major-league play all the way around,” Maddon said. “That gets interpreted kind of like tantamount to the soda tax in Chicago, for me.”
To reset: Justin Turner, a .300 hitter, singles into left field off Lackey, who almost never pitches out of the bullpen. Kyle Schwarber, who’s worked hard to shed his reputation as a bad defender after the 2015 NLCS, gathers himself and fires the ball to catcher Willson Contreras.
Trying to score from second base, Charlie Culberson slides but does not touch home plate, where Contreras had set up a partial roadblock. After a Dodger challenge and a replay review that lasted 2 minutes and 45 seconds, the call on the field is overturned. Dodgers 5, Cubs 2. Maddon goes wild.
“I saw a great baseball play,” Maddon said. “I saw Schwarber come in on a grounded ball, use his feet perfectly, make a low, great throw to the plate that could have been cut off.
“Perfect skip-hop, great play by Contreras, the ball kind of taking Willson towards the line, towards foul territory. He catches the ball, and his technique was absolutely 100 percent perfect.
“I could not disagree more with the interpretation of that. However, I will defend the umpires. The umpires did everything according to what they've been told. But from Day 1, I have totally disagreed with the content of that rule. I think it's wrong.”
So is your objection to the specific call, or to The Buster Posey Rule, even though it was called correctly?
“See, I don't think the rule was called correctly, either,” Maddon said. “From what I saw, the ball took Willson toward that line. I disagree with that, so I disagree with it on both counts, Your Honor.”
Schwarber’s perspective as someone who came up as a catcher and could still get behind the plate if needed:
“I still think the rule’s pretty vague. I know you have to give them the lane. That’s what it looked like at first – Willson actually did give him the lane. And then the ball was coming in, he stepped into the lane. That’s pretty much how we’re taught.”
In the end, maybe that call wouldn’t have made a difference and Jansen simply would’ve closed out a 4-2 game. But this is also the eighth playoff round for the Cubs since 2015, so they know how much all the little things matter and how you can’t give an inch.
“I’m defending my plate,” Contreras said. “I would not change anything. If I had to do that again, I would do it again.”