Chase Utley joined the ranks of John Rocker and Pete Rose as the object of Mets’ fans ire, with the New York crowd directing boos and profane chants at the Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman before Game 3 of the NL Division Series on Monday night.
Two days after his slide to break up a double play fractured the right leg of Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada at Dodger Stadium, Utley remained eligible to play while appealing his two-game suspension.
With the series tied 1-1, fans prepared for Citi Field’s first playoff game by directing their ire at Utley with chants on the No. 7 subway line to the ballpark. They booed loudly when Utley was introduced sixth among Dodgers reserves before the game, between ace Clayton Kershaw and backup Justin Ruggiano.
Tejada, using a blue cane with an orange Mets logo, was cheered boisterously.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio gave his view earlier Monday, pronouncing Utley “guilty as sin.”
Under the sport’s collective bargaining agreement, the hearing is to start within 14 days of Major League Baseball receiving the appeal, and penalties are held in abeyance pending a decision.
“I feel like MLB got, you know, maybe a little bit bullied into suspending him. Never happened before. I’ve seen slides a lot worse,” Kershaw said. “There’s a lot of people that have a lot of different opinions about it that probably shouldn’t because they’re not middle infielders and they have no idea what they’re talking about.”
John McHale Jr., the baseball executive who will hear the appeal, listened to the positions of management and the players’ union on timing and is expected to set a date Tuesday.
Instead of Utley, Los Angeles manager Don Mattingly started Howie Kendrick at second.
“Howie’s been swinging the bat good, and we feel like he gives us the best chance to win today,” Mattingly said.
Kendrick was 3 for 8 in the first two games of the series, while Utley went 1 for 2 in a pair of appearances as a pinch hitter. Kendrick is 1 for 6 against Mets Game 3 starter Matt Harvey, while Utley is 6 for 18.
“I’m a little surprised,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “Don knows his team better than me, but I got the same stats he’s got, and I know he swings the bat pretty good against Matt Harvey.”
Collins also did not expect any attempts by his players to retaliate. He said Harvey had “been told.”
“This is too big a game. We need to not worry about retaliating,” he said. “We need to worry about winning. … The one thing we can’t do is cost ourselves a game, and this particular game, because we’re angry. We can play angry, but we’ve got to play under control.”
Rose became a Mets enemy in Game 3 of the 1973 NL Championship Series at Shea Stadium, when he took out shortstop Bud Harrelson trying to break up a double play, leading in turn to a brawl. Fans later threw beer cans, cups and a whiskey bottle toward Rose’s left field position, leading Cincinnati manager Sparky Anderson to pull the Reds off the field for almost 20 minutes.
Rocker drew ire after he was quoted in a December 1999 Sports Illustrated story he would rather retire than play in New York. He said “Imagine taking the 7 train … next to some kid with purple hair, next to some queer with AIDS, right next to some dude who got out of jail for the fourth time.” That drew him a 14-day suspension, and when he returned to Shea with Atlanta, the Mets limited beers sales to two per person at a time instead of four.
Utley was penalized Sunday by Joe Torre, MLB’s chief baseball officer, who said Utley’s takeout was an “illegal slide.”
The tying run scored on the play, the first of four runs in the inning, and the Dodgers went on to win 5-2 and tie the series at one game apiece. If umpires had ruled the slide an illegal takeout, they could have called an inning-ending double play, which would have left the Mets ahead 2-1.
Utley asked the union to appeal the discipline.
“I feel terrible about Ruben’s injury,” Utley said in a statement Monday. “Now my teammates and I are focused on Game 3 and doing everything we can to win this series.”
Then with Philadelphia, Utley angered the Mets in 2010 when he slid hard into Tejada. Harvey hit Utley on the back with a 95 mph fastball at Citi Field on April 14 after Philadelphia’s David Buchanan plunked Wilmer Flores and Michael Cuddyer, both on the left hand.
McHale had been MLB’s executive vice president of administration from 2002 until April, when he received his new title. He has continued his role of hearing appeals of on-field discipline.
Before joining the commissioner’s office, McHale had been Colorado’s executive vice president of baseball operations, Detroit’s chief executive officer and Tampa Bay’s chief operating officer.
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