As Anthony Rizzo streaked toward home plate in the sixth inning, nobody knew it was about to be the most-talked about play in baseball for a news cycle (or longer).
Rizzo smacked into San Diego Padres catcher Austin Hedges, attemping to jar the ball loose and score an all-important run in a close game at Wrigley Field.
The play is a rarity in this game now, as MLB rules have changed to try avoid home plate collisions and keep players on the field.
The Cubs backed Rizzo and didn't think he did anything wrong.
The Padres were upset, with manager Andy Green calling it a "cheap shot."
Who's in the right?
Let's treat this like an internet court case:
Anthony Rizzo said it's "game on."
The face of the Cubs doesn't think he was in the wrong with his slide, saying, "By no means do I think that's a dirty play at all. I've talked to a lot of umpires about this rule. And my understanding is: If they have the ball, it's game on.
"I went pretty much straight in. He caught the ball. He went towards the plate. It's a play where I'm out by two steps. I slide, he runs into me. It's just one of those plays where it's unfortunate he had to exit."
Rizzo hopped on David Kaplan's ESPN 1000 radio show Tuesday and reiterated it was not a dirty play and instead was a "hard baseball play."
Rizzo has a very solid point, especially if that's how MLB umpires are explaining it to him. If a catcher is blocking the plate, why should a player just lay down and slide into a catcher's shinguards and risk injury to himself?
Cubs manager Joe Maddon backed the face of the franchise:
“I’d much prefer what Rizz did tonight. And what he did was right, absolutely right, so there’s nothing wrong with that. Nobody could tell me differently.
“It’s a good play. The catcher’s in the way. You don’t try to avoid him in an effort to score and hurt yourself. You hit him, just like Rizz did.”
"He caught the ball. He protected the plate. And Rizz had nowhere to go."
To a man, the Cubs don't think Rizzo's slide was wrong. Of course not. Why would they think he was wrong? The umpires did not throw Rizzo out of the game. A couple years ago, the collision at the plate was just a part of the game.
THE PADRES' CASE
First off: Hedges was not blocking the plate. He did have the ball, so we can all agree there. But he was in front of the plate. No part of him blocked Rizzo's path to the plate, as these images and GIFs show from the Padres broadcast:
Another angle here from the Padres broadcast. (1/2) pic.twitter.com/UtlQOCb9BO— Cubs Talk (@NBCSCubs) June 20, 2017
Another angle here from the Padres broadcast. (2/2) pic.twitter.com/o7f8PEtnPF— Cubs Talk (@NBCSCubs) June 20, 2017
The Padres have a very solid case here. Rizzo went out of his way to go after Hedges.
Why? Not because Rizzo is a dirty player. The Padres can think that, but come on. He's the face of the Cubs, he does not have a reputation as a dirty player and as Patrick Mooney said early Tuesday morning, why would Rizzo need to send a message to the hapless Padres of all teams?
Rizzo is ultra-competitive and wants to win. He was out by several steps on that throw from former Cub Matt Szczur, so Rizzo went at Hedges in an effort to knock the ball loose. He wanted to win and he made a split-second decision to try to give his team an advantage while playing within the rules as he understands them.
That's not dirty. But that also doesn't mean the Padres shouldn't be upset. They have every right to be.
Rizzo has a point, especially if umpires or the league have explained to him that he can hit the catcher if he's in the way.
But the Padres have a point in that Major League Baseball has tried to reduce — or completely eliminate — any contact at home plate whenever possible. And in the case of Monday night, it was very possible contact could have been avoided. It actually would've been easy to avoid contact here.
So the Padres and their fans and broadcasters have every right to be upset. The Cubs have every right to defend Rizzo (and they absolutely should until proven otherwise). The Cubs should just avoid making statements talking about Hedges blocking the plate, because he was not.
Rizzo could've easily slid around Hedges and gone toward the back side of home plate. Of course, we're watching it in slow motion and the game doesn't happen in slow motion. The players don't operate or make decisions in slow motion.
It all happens very quickly and in this case, it very well may be possible that Rizzo's split-second decision was wrong.
But if so — if Rizzo is in the wrong here — then MLB needs to step in here and explain it and use it as an example to teach and inform.
Will Rizzo get suspended for this play? I honestly don't know. Probably not, but it's possible. Players have gotten suspended for less and the league is trying hard to avoid "The Buster Posey Play" where the San Francisco Giants superstar broke his leg on a similar home plate collision.
It's unfortunate Hedges was injured on the play. Everybody is in agreement there, from Rizzo to Lester to Maddon to everybody in the Padres camp.
Regardless of if Hedges was injured or not, the Padres do have a strong case in being upset by the play.