What you need to know: Joe Musgrove threw seven strong innings, while Kyle Hendricks put together a five competitive innings despite not having his best stuff. Even though the Pirates led off each inning against Hendricks with a hit, beyond Josh Harrison’s solo home run in the first and Gregory Polanco’s sacrifice fly in the second, he was able to limit the damage. (Inducing four infield flies helped his cause.) The Cubs had an opportunity to put up a crooked number in the first, but couldn’t capitalize with the bases loaded and one away. After that, their best scoring opportunity before the ninth evaporated when Addison Russell was picked off at second base in the fourth.
Next Level: Benches cleared in the bottom of the third inning when Joe Musgrove slid through second base, bumping into Javy Báez and coming off the bag. The story here isn’t the tension between the two teams—Báez and Musgrove were at peace before their teammates reached them—but the details of the Utley rule. (Again.)
Because Musgrove did not maintain contact with second at the conclusion of his slide, it appeared to me that he had clearly violated the Utley rule, which requires you to do so. But the conclusion, a PA announcement worthy of Yogi Berra, was that, “After review, the play was not reviewable.”
Umpires had ruled, on the field, that Javy didn’t attempt to turn the double play. Because of this, their rules-check concluded that they couldn’t review the slide. I think they got the initial call correct: Javy had clearly (and smartly) swallowed the throw. There was no play to make. Yet this adds another layer of ambiguity to the Utley rule: namely, the instant judgment call that a fielder had already decided not to throw to first before the slide began. Because that creates more gray area where a hard, late slide might not be ruled interference, it’s a wrinkle (a loophole?) that undermines the rule’s intent. It may also undermine the league’s authority when they criticize some break-up-the-double-play slides but not others.
Top WPA play: Jason Heyward, completing a 3-for-3 night that included a 96-mph throw home to save a run, led off the top of the ninth with a single (+.115).
Bottom WPA play: Two outs later, Kris Bryant came to bat with Heyward on second and Báez on first. Bryant, who had struggled at the plate throughout the series, ground out to third base, leaving Pittsburgh with a 1-for-19 line (-.141).
Lead photo courtesy Charles LeClaire—USA Today Sports