Gajtka: Pirates Handled Tricky Slide Controversy Appropriately

I have not played Major League Baseball. I have not ever played a legitimate baseball game, in fact. (Hope you don’t think less of me now. Perhaps I’ve revealed too much.)

As such, I find myself woefully underqualified to determine whether the Pirates should have retaliated against Anthony Rizzo and the Cubs for the big first baseman’s takeout slide of Elias Díaz on Monday afternoon at PNC Park.

If the widely disparate viewpoints expressed in the aftermath of MLB’s latest rules controversy didn’t convince you of the ambiguity of the moment, then the league office’s flip-flop on the legality of Rizzo’s technique should have.

Sure, David Freese and Joey Cora were probably arguing about whether the Pirates should’ve plunked Rizzo on the at-bat after his offense, but a Memorial Day canvass of the home clubhouse revealed different perspectives; in the case of Sean Rodríguez, he seemed to insinuate in the same breath that the slide was kosher and that the Pirates should’ve taken exception.

So, like most things in sports and life, clear as mud. Upon further review, Rizzo’s slide was against the rules, but did it rise to the level of an affront to the Pirates’ pride? Tough to tell.

All this ambiguity didn’t stop many fans and — somewhat shockingly — members of the Pittsburgh sports media corps from calling for Rizzo’s head, sometimes literally. Let’s just say that turning the other cheek wasn’t a well-considered option for many on the outside looking in.

In the case of the fans expressing their fiery ire, I can understand and empathize. The Cubs have not only stomped the Pirates in terms of results over the past three seasons, including that hallmark 2016 World Series title, but memories of the final weeks of the 2015 season are still fresh in the minds of many Pittsburgh friendlies.

Chris Coghlan’s slide into Jung Ho Kang’s left knee was bad enough, but Joe Maddon’s flip dismissal of the incident afterward didn’t exactly help smooth things over. Then there was Jake Arrieta’s domination of the Pirates in the 2015 NL Wild Card and the dust-up following Tony Watson’s plunking of Arrieta in that same game. Throw in Clint Hurdle’s needling of Javy Báez’ histrionics in April and there’s some real friction between the Central rivals. Disdain for the Cubbies is certainly justified.

From my perspective, though, I don’t feel the need to tell the Pirates how to handle their business, and certainly not in a case that’s contains several shades of gray. But, judging from some of my fellow competitors in the market, I’m in the minority.

As many reported Monday, the Pirates themselves held a team meeting immediately after the game to discuss the matter. Per The Athletic, Richard Rodríguez didn’t want to talk about his decision to pitch to Rizzo in his first plate trip after the slide. (If we can even assume it was Rodríguez’ decision in the first place.)

Apparently, the Pirates’ collective call was not to press the issue into the final two games of their home series against Chicago. And since there was some dispute over the appropriateness of administering traditional baseball justice in this case, this commentator is glad they went about playing the game.

Díaz’ home run Tuesday had to deliver some satisfaction to all the affected parties in the home dugout, but if you’re a fan of the Code of Hammurabi, you had to enjoy Joe Musgrove’s enthusiastic slide into second base during Wednesday’s slump-busting win.

“I was going in hard to break up a double play,” Musgrove told reporters afterward, including our Alan Saunders. “He saw me coming. I was right in front of him. If he wanted to get out of the way, he should have. I wasn’t trying to hurt him, by any means, but I was trying to go in hard, like their guy did. So, he should have gotten out of the way, I guess.”

Even if Musgrove tried to dance around his underlying motivations in the postgame, there was a little extra behind that crash landing at the keystone.

One of the newest Pirates went on to concede that fact, even as he stood by his defense of the play itself. Díaz claimed Tuesday that the water had flowed under the bridge, but clearly Musgrove wanted to prove something when he got the opportunity. Oddly enough, that opportunity came on the basepaths, not on the mound.

“We’re not trying to fight anybody here,” Musgrove said. “We’re not trying to cause any problems. But, you know, you blindside our catcher when he’s got no chance to defend himself. I thought (Díaz) had cleared a lane (Monday). MLB decided that it was a bad slide.

“I slid directly into the bag. Yeah, I popped up a little bit, but I went in hard, I had nowhere else to go but up. I could have wiped him out and really hurt him. But I wasn’t trying to do that. I was just trying to go in hard like they did and break up the double play. So, it’s just something that I feel is part of baseball.”

If that’s the retaliatory method the Pirates chose, count me as a fan. I’m normally not Mr. Eye For An Eye, but this way seemed more appropriate than intentionally firing a baseball at Rizzo or one of his teammates.

You wanna play hard? Fine, let’s play hard. Within the rules, of course.

“I don’t think (Díaz) was happy I went after their guy or anything like that,” Musgrove concluded. “But yeah, you try to pick up your teammates when you can. I didn’t hurt (Báez). I easy could have done a dirty slide. I felt like I made a clean slide and just went in hard.”

Winning the game helps, too.