Was it “a cheap shot” or “a hard slide?”
Well, that depends on who you ask.
Hours after Rizzo’s sixth-inning slide knocked Hedges from the game with a bruised right thigh, the two clubs had differing views on the collision at the plate.
The play unfolded after Kris Bryant lofted a fly ball to shallow center field with one out. Former Cubs outfielder Matt Szczur made a running catch and fired a strike to the plate, well ahead of Rizzo, who initiated contact with Hedges.
“It’s a fairly egregious violation of the rule,” Padres manager Andy Green said. “The rule exists to protect that catcher. … I think it’s a cheap shot. I’m not saying [Rizzo] is a dirty player at all. No one is saying that. But he clearly deviated from his path to hit our catcher and took our catcher out. The rule exists to protect him.”
SD@CHC: Maddon, Green, Hedges on home plate collision
Cubs manager Joe Maddon, Padres manager Andy Green and catcher Austin Hedges discuss the home plate collision with Anthony Rizzo
Rizzo, however, saw the play a bit differently.
“I went pretty much straight in,” Rizzo said. “He caught the ball and went toward the plate. It was a hard slide. I play this game hard for 162 games-plus, every day. I pride myself on it, running the bases hard, doing everything hard. I can’t see that being dirty.”
The bylaw in question is Rule 7.13, which notes: “A runner may not run out of a direct line to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher.”
Or, in Hedges’ words: “If you give them the plate, they’re supposed to slide.”
That’s not Rizzo’s interpretation.
“I’ve talked to a lot of umpires about this rule,” he said. “My understanding is if [the catcher has] the ball, it’s game on.”
The Padres are hopeful that Hedges, who had the wind knocked out of him on the play, will avoid a lengthy absence, though it’s doubtful he starts on Tuesday. He was replaced by Luis Torrens, who singled in his only at-bat.
Green was understandably displeased with his young catcher being put in harm’s way. Without saying so explicitly, Green asked that Major League Baseball look into the possibility of a suspension for Rizzo.
“For me, the whole point of the rule is to protect my catcher, not to necessarily get a call right on safe or out,” Green said. “When Austin Hedges’ health is put in jeopardy because someone took a shot at him when he’s not expecting it at all, that’s a problem.
“That’s something where baseball needs to consider how you handle situations like this after it occurs. Because if there’s some sort of penalty now, then people think twice about it. If something happens with Anthony Rizzo’s next number of games, then they think twice about taking that shot. That’s up to the Commissioner’s Office to make that type of determination. That’s not up to me.”
Since the rule was implemented, there are no examples of suspensions or fines for players who have violated it. The rule itself merely allows for umpires to call the runner out at the plate should he force an unnecessary collision. (Rizzo was out anyway, rendering the rule moot).
Still, the Cubs didn’t quite see Rizzo as being in violation.
“I loved it, absolutely loved it,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “That’s part of the game. If the catcher’s in the way, you hit him.”
Hedges said his last home-plate collision came three years ago in the Minors, before the implementation of the rule. He pointed to his adjustments in receiving, noting that he no longer stands in front of the plate to make the catch.
Regardless of Monday’s play, Hedges said he won’t change his method in the future.
“I put myself in a good position there, and I walked away from it,” Hedges said. “I’m feeling good. I’ll just do the same thing next time.”